Iowa born Susan Glaspell (1876-1948) was a playwright, novelist, journalist and actress, in fact, starring in the debut of this One Act. Her work was most often both semi-autobiographical and set in the Midwest. Perhaps influenced by a pioneer grandmother, the writer grew up more independent than many young women of her time. She was an accomplished student with a newspaper column at age 18. Two years later, against the tide, Glaspell enrolled at Drake University majoring in philosophy.
Upon graduation, the young woman returned to the Des Moines newspaper. One of the stories she covered, clearly inspiration for this play, was about an abused wife murdering her husband. She quit the business directly after turning to fiction and plays that focused on gender, ethics, and taking principled stands. Trifles, written 106 years ago, is finding a new audience with women’s issues currently more conscious. Glaspell and husband, George Cook founded The Provincetown Players.
Iowa. Early 20th Century. Wind. Interior of the modest Wright farmhouse. There’s been a death. Gathered are the deceased man’s wife, in shock and silent in a rocking chair; County Attorney Henderson (Quinlan Corbett), Sheriff Peters (Peter Tedeschi), Mrs. Peters (Susanna Frazer), neighbor Mr. Hale (Michael Durkin) and his wife, Mrs. Hale (Anne Fizzard.) The body remains upstairs in bed – with a rope around the neck.
Henderson questions Mr. Hale who came to see the deceased, found his wife and the body and called the authorities. Actor Michael Durkin’s Hale is spot on. Stop/start delivery makes us feel he’s recollecting as we watch. Even just in a head and shoulders shot, he has credibility and presence. Country tone is apt. Corbett’s Henderson begins as if he already knows the answers, but the performer settles in better as the play progresses. Hale knows nothing helpful. Apparently Mrs. Wright was asleep in bed when her husband was killed – next to her. The Sheriff’s part is so small one wonders why the character was included.
At some point Mrs. Wright is taken to jail. Unfortunately we have no idea this has happened until it comes up in dialogue a bit later. The women are tasked with gathering things for her incarceration. Anne Fizzard’s Mrs. Hale regrets that she didn’t regularly visit. She knew the widow when she was a cheerful, unmarried choir member and stayed away as her neighbor withdrew into dour isolation. “Mr Wright was a hard man.” Fizzard’s accent is Midwestern broad. Sympathy, curiosity, and conjecture play across her face.
She and Mrs. Peters (Susanna Frazer stumbles reading her lines), find what seem to us obvious clues of what occurred. As they talk, the men pass several times dismissing the trifles with which their wives occupy their lives. They don’t ask – why would they then? The women don’t share. Impasse.
Several cast members could’ve been better directed where to look as this format creates boxes. Still, the piece effectively gets its point across.
The loose sketch passing for a set is unfortunately distracting rather than helpful or evocative.
Michael Kosch’s music fits well.
Photo Courtesy of the production
Top: Quinlan Corbett, Peter Tedeschi, Michael Durkin
Lower: Susanna Frazer and Anne Fizzard
Metropolitan Playhouse presents Trifles by Susan Glaspell
Directed by Laura Livingston
Through May 12 10 p.m. Eastern Time