In five dexterously argued chapters, John Lahr investigates all the major plays and many of Noël Coward's lesser-known pieces. Hay Fever, Private Lives, and Design for Living, for instance, make a fascinating group of "Comedies of Bad Manners." Blithe Spirit and Relative Values raise the "Ghost in the Fun Machine." And Lahr explores the "politics of charm" oozing through The Vortex, Easy Virtue, and Present Laughter. Further chapters consider the patriotic plays like Cavalcade and This Happy Breed and examples of Coward's later work, such as Waiting in the Wings and A Song at Twilight.
In all Coward's stage work, Lahr detects a coherent philosophy in which charm is both the subject of Coward's comedies and the trap that makes his very public life a perpetual performance.