In Granville Barker's masterwork, Amy O'Connell--pregnant as a result of an extra marital dalliance with the independent politician Henry Trebell--declares to him her intention to have an abortion, vehemently insisting, "I've a right to choose." Doing so, she embodies a personal and societal dilemma no closer to resolution today than it was almost 100 years ago when the first production of Waste, which had to be presented at a private club, was performed, and the London Times critic weighed in with: "The subject matter of Waste, together with the sincere realism with which it is treated, makes it, in our judgment, wholly unfit for performance under ordinary conditions before a miscellaneous public of various ages, moods and standards of intelligence."
Ostensibly it was the mention of abortion that brought the Lord Chamberlain's condemnation--his order included the phrases "a criminal operation" and "extremely outspoken reference to sexual relations" --but the commonly-held interpretation was that Granville Barker's expose of political cynicism and machination would have opened both Tories and Liberals to embarrassment, and that could not be allowed.
But whereas Waste has been appreciated--and shamelessly deprecated--as a troubling play about politics, it should also be seen as a troubling play about sexual politics. Yes, there are a series of scenes in it depicting insinuating behind-the-scenes deals and accommodations among powerful men, but there are also sequences in which the drawing-room power of women--constrained, of course, and thus sleek evidence of repression--is also put into play (pun intended).