Act 1 Stanley, a failed piano player, lives in a boarding house run by Meg and Petey, in an English seaside town. Bill Naismith says that the play is set "probably on the south coast, not too far from London. Basingstoke and Maidenhead, southern towns, are evoked; and so is London––in both Goldberg and Stanley's reminiscences."
Act 2 On a day claimed to be Stanley's birthday by Meg, the boarding house is visited by two men, Goldberg and McCann. They throw a birthday party for Stanley through which Goldberg and McCann torture Stanley psychologically. This torture results in Stanley attempting to strangle Meg and to assault Lulu sexually.
Act 3 The aftermath of the party is observed: the drum, Meg's present to her beloved Stanley, lies broken on the floor; Lulu comes downstairs after having spent the night, regretting her participation in unnamed sexual activities with Goldberg; and Stanley is led downstairs by McCann unable to walk on his own or even speak.