Who killed whom?
Harrison Brent (Margaret's real husband) committed suicide by putting real bullets in the gun he gave to Carlotta Donovan, Margaret's patient, when they were "acting out" her nightmare six months before the play begins. Carlotta Donovan, realizing that she had just killed Harrison, committed suicide also. Margaret then came home to find two dead bodies, her husband's and her patient's. She hid her husband's body in the fireplace and threw her patient's body in Scotty's Pond. Phillip Reynolds killed Mrs. Johaneston (the cook) and Lionel McAuley (Margaret's patient.)
What did Margaret do?
She conspired to kill Mrs. Johaneston and Detective Ascher, hid the dead body of her husband in the fireplace and disfigured the dead body of her patient/daughter to disguise her identity before she threw the body in the pond. She did not actually kill anyone.
Why did she do all this?
Margaret tells Lionel that were her husband to die, all his money (in excess of 200 million dollars) would go back to his family in England. She needed to conceal his death until she could switch over all their bank accounts and credit cards (she is doing this on the phone at the beginning of the play) and until her book hopefully becomes a best seller and she has money of her own.
Why was Mrs. Johaneston killed?
In the first scene, she saw Philip Reynolds (pretending to be Harrison Brent) eat a piece of sugary Sara Lee Cake. Harrison Brent was severely diabetic and as Margaret tells Lionel, "If he breathes near sugar, he's a dead man." Mrs. Johaneston had been preparing sugar-free meals for this man she thought was Harrison Brent and surely would have noticed his cake-eating, and then, as the town gossip, would have told everyone he was not really a diabetic (and thus perhaps an impostor.)
Why was Lionel McAuley Killed?
He was the only witness to Phillip and Margaret's visit to Mrs. Johaneston's apartment Monday night, and thus could testify that he saw Phillip go into her apartment building with a "long thin brown bag" on the night that she was beaten to death with a blunt instrument. In addition, Phillip Reynolds, an insanely jealous man, believed that Margaret was actually falling in love with Detective Ascher, so to punish her, he escaped back to England, leaving her in the house with two dead bodies (Lionel in the office and Harrison in the fireplace) and a cop.
Why is Lionel being hypnotized?
He wants to become famous as the "Baseball Bat Killer" and thus is willing to take the blame for the deaths of Harrison Brent and Carlotta Donovan and Mrs. Johaneston. He is already a murderer, having killed his wife's lovers. He loves his daughter more than anything in the world, but he is afraid that if he stays near her, he may hurt her in some way, so he is willing to go to prison and/or be killed in a blaze of glory as the "Baseball Bat Killer."
Why is Carlotta Donovan here?
She tracked down her birth mother, Margaret, through the crucifix and wanted to find out about her without explaining who she was. She became Margaret's patient, and ended up sleeping with Harrison, who may or may not have been her father. She wanted to work her way into their lives, as she is angry that she was raised in England by a sexually abusive adoptive father and not by the Brents who had millions of dollars and a seemingly great life.
What is the painting about?
Harrison Brent painted it as a wedding present to Margaret years before the play begins to reflect his suicidal tendencies. He is the man with the holes in his arms (holes from his insulin shots). In the original painting, before the bricks were switched, the man is crawling towards the skull (death) and away from the puppy (Margaret - her nickname). Margaret switched the position of the bricks six months before the play began when she hid Harrison's body in the fireplace. The painting in its current form shows the man crawling towards Margaret (the puppy) and away from death (the skull.) Margaret did this so no one would suspect that Harrison was suicidal. The symbolism of the witch doctor is open to interpretation. It could be anyone who uses his/her powers (medical, psychological/intellectual) for good rather than evil.
What is the connection between Lionel's science medal and Margaret's crucifix?
Lionel tells Margaret about his science medal because he wants to give it to his daughter before he leaves her. This causes Margaret to remember the crucifix she gave her own infant daughter when she gave her up for adoption 20 years earlier. Margaret's crucifix said "Manchester WH" (for the Manchester Women's Hospital). We never learn what Lionel's science medal says.
What is the significance of "Manchester WH?"
When Margaret realized she was pregnant and couldn't be sure who the father was (two men on the same night after the Harvard Halloween Costume Ball), she gave birth to the baby and then gave her up for adoption rather than jeopardize the chance to marry the very wealthy Harrison. After the birth, Margaret ran to give her baby the crucifix so she would know her when they hopefully met in the future. By the time Margaret sees the crucifix again (a the end of the play, in Ascher's hand), it is too late. That is the "one clue" Carlotta left her.
How and why did Harrison Brent commit suicide?
While "acting out" Carlotta Donovan's nightmare six months before the play begins, Harrison put real bullets in the gun he gave Carlotta, telling her they were blanks. Carlotta pulled the trigger, unaware she was killing Harrison. Harrison did this because he wanted a witness to his death so that Margaret couldn't cover it up and keep his money. However, when Carlotta realized what she had done, she swallowed a bottle of pills, left a message for Margaret on her tape recorder, and then carved the letter A in her own forehead - of course a reference to The Scarlet Letter and Carlotta's own adultery with Harrison. Harrison commits suicide because he is ill and can no longer work; he senses his wife moving on without him: writing articles for the New York Times, finishing a book, etc. and based on the painting he gave her years ago as a wedding present, suicide has been on his mind for a long time.
Why is Phillip Reynolds there?
Margaret needed him to impersonate Harrison for six months while she switched over the bank accounts and finished her book. Phillip was only seen from a distance by everyone except the cook, who could then testify that she had cooked sugar free meals for a British man named Harrison Brent for six months. Phillip physically resembled Harrison enough that Margaret confused them 20 years earlier in matching Zorro costumes, so anyone who saw Phillip form a distance walking around the property would assume that he was Harrison and not suspect any foul play. Margaret's plan was to then claim that Lionel, the "Baseball Bat Killer" killed Harrison and Carlotta and Ascher. Lionel would willingly admit he was the killer and go off to jail as a notorious serial killer where he would be unable to hurt his beloved daughter.
Why does Margaret try to kill herself at the end?
She realized that she had lost her daughter for the second time because of her desire for money. She was so busy working on her book and thinking about money that she failed to recognize her own daughter when she came knocking at her door.
Who is Carlotta's father?
Since Margaret had sex with both Philip Reynolds and Harrison Brent in the same night, after the Costume Ball, even she is not sure and DNA testing was not available at the time.
Did Carlotta know Margaret was her mother?
Yes, that is why she came to Windsor Locks, knocked on Margaret's door and said she was looking for a therapist and that is why she accepted Harrison's invitation to come over and act out her nightmare when Margaret was going to be out at the British Club receiving a trophy.
What exactly does Ascher figure out?
Margaret tells Ascher that she and her husband were acting out a former patient's nightmare Sunday night when Mrs. Johaneston saw them. She moves the lamp each time and she tells Ascher that she uses timers when she acts out the nightmare so everything will be exact and she can figure out what the nightmare means and what missing "one clue" her patient has left her. Ascher compares Mrs. Johaneston's description of the Sunday night events and Margaret's description of the girl's nightmare and realizes there is one big difference- there is no phone call in the girl's nightmare, and if the acting out is supposed to be exact, then Margaret was not acting out the girl's nightmare on Sunday night, but rather he own husband's death six months before, when she was out receiving a trophy from the British Club. Ascher puts all these pieces together by the last scene and then at the very end of the play the one last piece- the missing body of Harrison is buried in the fireplace.
What happens after the play is over?
Phillip is perhaps caught when he reaches Kennedy Airport, Margaret probably goes to jail for a few months for obstruction of justice, and Ascher may be waiting for her in the Connecticut Jail parking lot when she gets out.