Seduction, in two acts, is set in Copenhagen in the 19th century. Three men and two women make up the cast with a two-level unit set representing all locations. In darkness we hear Regine playing Chopin’s Minute Waltz on a piano in the upstage shadows as lights come up on Kirkegaard reading aloud from a diary at a desk DR. Johannes appears in the center arch, then Cordelia in the right arch. She sits on the sofa as Edvard enters through the left arch and sits on the window seat while Johannes moves downstage, asking Kirkegaard what he is reading. Kirkegaard admits to reading from Johannes’ diary and says he thinks he knows the girl in the diary. Johannes claims that the diary is a work of fiction, and both men look at Cordelia as she walks to the edge of the stage, looking out.
We hear footsteps on cobbles, a flapping of wings, and a dog barking as Cordelia and Johannes speak antiphonally, she about a feeling of being followed, he describing her actions. Regine plays the waltz again as Johannes questions Kirkegaard about his relationship with her. Johannes tells Kirkegaard that people laugh at him in the street and that if he neglects Regine someone might take her. Kirkegaard tells Regine that he has been devoted to her since she was fourteen and he was twenty-five. They talk about what their marriage might be like and she says she needs to know if he wants her or not. She takes roses out of a vase, throws the water in his face, replaces the roses, and leaves. Kirkegaard follows her and we hear the sound of a calliope playing circus music. Cordelia looks out her window as Johannes looks up at her and Edvard watches from the right window. Cordelia says she imagines a shy man who loves her deeply standing in the courtyard below. Johannes says he found out that Cordelia is the daughter of a dead sea captain, forced to live with a widowed aunt.
Regine plays the waltz but stops, saying she can’t play it right. Kirkegaard burst in to tell her that he can’t stop thinking about her, that he wants to marry her. We hear the sound of thunder and rain as Edvard rushes across the upper level past Johannes, who enters with an unopened umbrella. He tells us he has followed Cordelia for weeks and one day she found herself on an empty street in a downpour without an umbrella. He joins Cordelia in the center arch; he opens his umbrella and they run off DL. Regine approaches Kirkegaard at his desk and tells him that nothing he says makes any sense to her. He says it would be wrong for him to marry her. She thinks there must be someone else; he says her name is Cordelia. Cordelia moves to the edge of the stage, speaking of a man who is following her. Johannes, behind her, says he must control the pace at which things develop. He has acquainted himself with her stupid cousins and they have invited him to their home. Cordelia invites him to join her on the sofa, but he talks with Kirkegaard.
Regine accuses Kirkegaard of avoiding her and chasing after the mysterious Cordelia, calling him insane. He goes off DR and she bangs on the piano, startling Edvard who falls into a half-open umbrella which closes over his head. As he tries to close the umbrella, Cordelia tells Johannes that she has invited Edvard, a childhood friend, to her aunt’s house. Johannes tells Kirkegaard that Edvard is hopelessly in love with Cordelia and that the conquest of a woman should be a work of art. Johannes tries to convince Edvard that Cordelia is in love with him, suggesting that he take her to the theatre. Edvard wants Johannes to come with them to help keep the conversation going, and Johannes agrees to find a date, Regine. We hear the sounds of a crowd babbling in the lobby of a theatre at intermission. Regine tells Cordelia that she agreed to go to the theatre with Johannes to drive Kirkegaard mad, but she tells Cordelia that Johannes wants her. As Regine plays the waltz, Kirkegaard says that he used to wait in a pastry shop to see her when she was a schoolgirl. He says that to avoid regretting everything one should embrace fiction, not love. He warns her about Johannes. Regine says she is teaching Cordelia to play the piano. Kirkegaard says that Cordelia is entirely fictional, that either he or Johannes made her up. Perhaps he made Johannes up or perhaps Regine. We hear an offstage piano playing the waltz as the lights fade, ending the act.
As the second act begins, Regine is explaining octaves and key signatures to Cordelia, but Cordelia wants to know why Kirkegaard broke up with Regine. Cordelia says Johannes frightens her and wonders if it is necessary to murder someone to be certain they are real, or you are real. After Regine and Edvard leave, Cordelia talks with Johannes and leaves when Edvard comes back, to tell Johannes that when Cordelia is near him he can’t think and when she’s gone he can think of nothing else. He decides he will buy her a dog, hugs Johannes, and goes out the center arch. Kirkegaard asks Johannes if he feels guilty about manipulating Cordelia and Edvard. Johannes says that stupid people should be eaten, that he wants to grab Cordelia and kiss her violently in front of everybody. He thinks he can kill Edvard. When Regine enters, Johannes tells her that she is the only real thing in Kirkegaard’s life, but after he leaves Regine tells Kirkegaard that she has decided to marry Schlegel, her childhood tutor. She kisses Kirkegaard passionately and pulls away as he says he hopes she’ll be very happy. After he leaves, Regine says that somebody should kill that demented son of a bitch and leaves.
In the right arch Johannes says that ambiguity is the seducer’s best friend, that to make one’s self a poem in a girl’s soul is an art, but that to extricate one’s self from the poem is a masterpiece. Cordelia, sitting up in bed, says she has been having strange dreams. Johannes tells us he stands outside Cordelia’s house at night in the rain. He thinks she lusts after the dangerous and degrading and starts climbing the trellis. Cordelia moves to the window; Johannes ducks under the window; she goes out. Edvard enters announcing that he is going to ask her tonight. Johannes jumps from the trellis to tell Kirkegaard that he must get to Cordelia first. When Johannes tells Edvard he is in love, Edvard assumes he means Regine and tells Cordelia that Johannes is perhaps already engaged. Regine tells Cordelia to get away while she can. Johannes tells Cordelia that he is not engaged and wants to marry her, urging her to say yes because it’s in the script he wrote in his head when he imagined this moment. Cordelia says she must consult with her aunt and when Edvard enters with brownies Johannes tells him that Cordelia has agreed to marry him but that he will stand aside if Cordelia prefers Edvard. Cordelia asks Edvard if he wants to marry her and, not getting an answer, storms out, followed by Johannes and Edvard with the brownies.
Kirkegaard tells us that he walks all over the city, his brain on fire, goes to the theatre in the evening, lurking in the crowd, and then goes home to write all night. Before dawn he sleeps for a few hours but has bad dreams and gets up and does the whole thing over again. Johannes tells Kirkegaard that he has not congratulated him on his engagement, that the aunt is very excited and Cordelia bewildered. Kirkegaard asks what she will do when she realizes he has no intention of marrying her. Johannes replies that it’s one of God’s ironclad rules that if the man does not deceive the woman, the woman must inevitably deceive the man. He says Kirkegaard led a poor girl on for years and then broke the engagement, while he, Johannes, is at least honest and, unlike Kirkegaard, is actually going to fuck his girl. Kirkegaard says he is absolutely right.
Johannes and Cordelia sit on the sofa speaking their thoughts aloud. He says that the person she believes she is falling in love with is a fictional construction they both have created out of her desire to love someone and the pleasure he takes in helping her delude herself. She wonders aloud why he doesn’t just jump on her. Regine tells Cordelia that he is going to kill her, but Cordelia rests her head on his shoulder. We hear birds singing as Edvard enters, talking to himself about Johannes violating Cordelia’s flesh. He tells Regine that it is dangerous for her to be alone in the woods at night and that Johannes and Cordelia are to be married. Regine says that she herself is going to marry a man she does not love. Edvard says he can’t understand how women think and act. Regine tells him that in matters of love everyone is completely selfish and utterly ruthless. Crying, he puts his head in her lap, and she tells him that in matters of love everybody here is imaginary.
Cordelia and Johannes walk as if on a path by the woods and she rejects his attempt to kiss her, wondering what Edvard is doing with his head in Regine’s lap. Johannes says they are just animals fumbling about and says he releases her from their engagement. Johannes tells Kirkegaard that he has given Cordelia the privilege of suffering so that her pleasure will be intensified when she gives herself to him completely. As Kirkegaard drinks from a bottle, Cordelia moves to the edge of the stage saying that she has been following Johannes all over the city. She asks Johannes if he will be satisfied if she gives herself to him. She puts his hands on her breasts and kisses him passionately, starting to take off her clothes. Johannes tells her that making love is not necessary, that knowing she is willing is enough: the game is over. He says he has taught her a lesson, but she says he is not even real, spits in his face, and runs blindly upstage. Johannes wipes his face with a handkerchief, saying that the absurd and meaningless act of animal copulation is unnecessary, pointless, and vulgar. But he still physically desires her and wonders if he has been decent and might love her. Edvard, making the sound of a wounded, enraged animal, grabs Johannes by the neck from behind, strangling him. Johannes’ neck snaps and Edvard drops him to the ground and leaves. Kirkegaard climbs the trellis, looking in the window and calling for Regine. She helps him through the window and as they sit on the bed he says that he has been hearing voices and seeing things. He suspects that everything in his life is an illusion. He says Johannes is dead and that he, Kirkegaard, is a whole crowd of men, rattling off a list of the pseudonyms he uses. Cordelia and Edvard sit on the sofa, not touching. Kirkegaard tells Regine that he created and then destroyed Johannes. As Cordelia plays the waltz, Kirkegaard kisses Regine, climbs down the trellis, and goes to his desk to start writing in the diary as the lights fade to darkness.