Written in 1962-3, Play depicts three characters, a man (M), and two women (W1 and W2) trapped in urns with only their heads showing. These characters each present their own version of a love triangle, which once occurred between them. It becomes clear during the play that the characters, once tortured by each other, are now tortured by their situation. A spotlight acts as a "unique inquisitor," compelling each to speak when it shines on them, and to stop when it goes out. As this assault continues, the characters become increasingly maddened by the light, and increasingly desperate to make it stop. The play repeats itself, providing the audience with a sense that these characters have been saying the same words for an eternity, and will continue to do so until the light decides they can stop. Beckett demonstrates how "A style of living, theatrically communicable, is used to express a state of mind."
The characters begin telling the stories of their life, and how the love triangle affected them. The language is colourful, although filled with bitterness, jealousy, and frustration. They each feel they have been tortured by the other two, and speak as if they are trying to justify their own actions towards the others. M is angry that he was caught, and that he admitted, saying, "Adulterers, take warning, never admit." He does not feel guilt for the adultery, but rather frustration at not being able to please both women. It appears that he accuses both women of playing with his emotions, rendering him unable to choose between them. Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan features the same displacement of guilt in Lyman's polygamous tale. In Play, W1, as the wife of M, feels she has been mistreated by M's adultery. She uses her anger for M against W2, attacking her verbally, and uses M's guilt to make him return to her. W2 also feels rejected by M, and uses her anger against W1.
From their bitter language, the audience can sense the torture of the love triangle, and the distress it caused all three characters. Towards the end of the play, each character imagines what the other two are doing, believing them to be still living. They felt rejected in life, and are reinforcing those feelings with images of rejection in death, in a sense, torturing themselves.
The speed of the characters' speech and the disruption caused by the light flicking from one face to another renders it almost impossible to discern their words on stage. A similar effect is produced in Not I, a play in which language becomes a curse, rather than a miracle. It is only on closer examination of the drama that one can understand what the characters are saying. Beckett wished this play to affect the audience emotionally, rather than intellectually. The fast tempo of the speech, along with the quick movement of the light between the heads, conveys a sense of distress and urgency, as well as demonstrating the arbitrariness of language, and how "it simply presents a fragmentary...