The 'old ones' are: SARAH, her two brothers, BOOMY - the pessimist, and MANNY - the optimist; MANNY'S wife, GERDA, and SARAH'S eccentric friends - TERESSA, MILLIE and JACK.
The young are the children of SARAH and BOOMY.
Manic MANNY and gloomy BOOMY constantly quarrel due to an incident in their youth. Their form of quarrel is an eccentric ritual: a 'quotation competition' in which each seeks to confront the other with the ultimate, the irrefutable quotation from the classics to prove that life is either good or bad.
Set against scenes of defiant old age 'The Old Ones' plays out the conflict between the optimistic and pessimistic spirit.
"Violence! Violence .... Everyone's talking about violence - a big mystery! What causes it! Whisper, whisper, whisper, pssssss! Why don't they ask me? Ask me, I'll tell them... They've never heard of cultural intimidation? I'm not of course referring to your so-called 'magnificent primitive working man' - we all know nothing can intimidate him. I'm referring to the men of real inferiority, men who suspect their own stupidity. That's where violence comes from. The anger of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge that he's a pig and then - everything intimidates him: a tone of voice, a way of dressing, a passion for literature, a passion for music, for anything! He hates it! One little speck of colour on a man's personality unleashes such venom, such venom..."
…a play that will penetrate the memory … it works because of the patent sincerity of Wesker's belief that there is joy in life even at 70.
Michael Billington, The Guardian