The plot of Waste involves the above-mentioned Henry Trebell, who's been working on a headline-grabbing bill involving disestablishment of the Church of England. His activities are, as it happens, of interest to Tories looking to unseat the ruling Liberal party in an upcoming election. (This plot point may be a little fuzzy for stateside ticket-buyers.) Cyril Horsham, who heads the shadow government with a politico's iron fist in an gentlemen's evening glove, regards Trebell's bill as just the ticket to further his ticket. He has silenced the objections of pragmatists with whom he's attached and is about to bring Trebell aboard when the news breaks behind closed doors about Amy O'Connell's having had an abortion that caused her death.
Reluctantly but with the harsh finality frequently an element of realpolitik, he sends Trebell a polite, dismissive note. For Horsham the development means forfeiting the likelihood of a reform in which he actually believes; for Trebell it means the ruin of a carefully constructed career; for Amy O'Connell, it means, of course, far worse. Hence Granville Barker's devastating title: Waste.
The glimpses into mounting tragedy that Granville Barker provides begin in the home of George and Julia Farrant and proceed to the office Trebell keeps in his home and on to Horsham's cigars-and-whiskey lair. As scene follows scene, the playwright subtly demonstrates how the atmosphere in which women are allowed--even expected--to sparkle gives way to the more potent areas in which men wield their absolute influence. In the Amy O'Connell-Trebell encounters, which start at the Farrant's but move to Trebell's, she intrudes on his domains symbolically as well as physically, and she's punished for the affront.
But not before she and the rest of Granville Barker's dramatis personae utter copious quotable--and revealing--lines. "I have never spoken in public, and I never shall," Julia Farrant says, pin pointing the place in which a leading socialite was meant to fit herself. Under Lady Julia's hospitable auspices another of the well-born says about men, "You've got to fool them, or they'll fool you." Later, someone remarks--and always remember, Granville Barker was a leading Shaw disciple--"The road to hell is paved less with good intentions than with high ideals."