Shaw's Lunchtime "Trifles," Some Serious Matters to Digest
Benedict Campbell and Graeme Somerville
The Shaw program describes this season's lunchtime fare as "Two gripping marital mysteries by two playwrights who helped bring modern drama to America. In Trifles, (by Susan Glaspell) a man is found dead, but his wife can't explain the rope around his neck. In A Wife for a Life (Eugene O'Neill's first play), a husband seeks revenge for his wife's infidelity."
With a running time of 50 minutes,
O'Neil don't have much time to develop their themes. Glaspell succeeds mainly because newcomers
(Mrs. Peters) and
(Mrs. Hale) virtually solve the murder mystery for us largely by what they don't say as much as what they do.
O'Neill doesn't fare as well although Benedict Campbell (Older Man) and Jeff Irving (Jack) both give it a strong try. Graeme Somerville operates in both, nuanced like the ladies, always with expressive body language. Campbell's craggy voice in part one is terrific.
The plays start and end with eerie humming by the characters, particularly effective at the finish with the cast standing forlornly behind split barn wood in Camellia Koo's Spartan yet effective set resembling a prison, leaving us with dark speculation about the tricky nature of male/female relationships and our short time here on a discordant earth.
The first play, Trifles is worth seeing twice. Glaspell's title is surely satiric. Not so A Wife For A Life which might have been more fun as My Wife For Your Life with two pistol-packing gold miners who have struck it rich. The plays flow into each other with a quick change in atmosphere and clothing that can confuse those not prepared.
In the first play, the investigative team (men) have little interest in the kitchen (female) as per their macho roles, yet in the woman's quieter
domain, we learn the true story through simple feminine details - an unusual, haphazard section of quilt, ruined jars of fruit, an empty, broken birdcage, and a box containing a dead canary wrapped in red cloth, an appropriate metaphor for Campbell's dejected miner in the second play.
Apparently O'Neill regarded his first effort in 1913 as a true trifle, and he destroyed it, but unfortunately for him, it was rediscovered. He had written it during his six-month convalescence from tuberculosis in a sanatorium. It's hard to believe that the same man wrote Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh. This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Provincetown Players, the first indigenous theatre company that produced 100 original American plays in its 7 year history, including eleven by Glaspell and fourteen by O'Neill.
In Trifles, Mrs. Hale says, "We live close together and we live far apart. We all go though the same things, it's all just a different kind of the same thing."
, another newcomer directs both efforts as tightly as necessary. She says, "For me, both plays speak of longing, absence, isolation and searching." For summer lunchtime fare, this is a tad gloomy, particularly in the Court House which intensifies the murky messages.