Looking back at early work can pay big dividends for theatregoers interested in discovering for themselves just how things began.
The two plays that seamlessly comprise this season’s noontime show have much to say about how powerful loneliness can be when acted upon.
Susan Glaspell’s Trifles was her first solely written play; Eugene O’Neill thought so little of A Wife for a Life that he destroyed it only to have it resurface in 1950—unfortunately, in a sense, for posterity, Brahms was far more thorough when deciding a work wasn’t good enough (greedily, one can’t but help imagining that “rejected” Brahms would still be far superior than many of his contemporaries’ efforts).
The flaws in both plays (largely black-and-white characterization and a surfeit of coincidence) aren’t enough to leave them gathering dust. One can only guess that the performances directed by Meg Roe were the best presentations these inaugural attempts have ever received.
Magically, the complementary themes are glued together by a Capella humming composed by Alessandro Juliani. After what appears to be “tuning up,” the other voices quietly join in, wordlessly—the ideal effect—gently setting the mood in the alluring key of thoughtful.
The murderous plot of Trifles becomes a fascinating tale of understandable revenge. Benedict Campbell as Lewis Hale does a wonderful job relating how he found the strangled husband to Sheriff Peters (Graeme Somerville, purposely cool) and the County Attorney (Jeff Irving is a ready suppliant to ooze out the playwright’s chauvinistic platitudes and female put downs). The body is never seen nor the prime suspect: his wife—seemingly the only other person at home during the crime—has been taken off to jail.
With the men vainly (both meanings) searching for clues, it falls to Peters’ wife and relative newcomer to the farming community (Kaylee Harwood handles her lawful citizen to outraged woman transition with ease), along with longtime resident and Hale’s spouse to literally piece together the quilt of circumstances that have driven more than a few to contemplate killing their significant bothers.
The jury of onlookers is all but decided when the humming returns and a few slight adjustments to Camellia Koo’s multipurpose set, artfully matched by Louis Guinand’s subtly effective lighting, shift the action to O’Neill’s take on marriage gone sour.
After Old Pete (Somerville) delivers a rare telegram—intercepted and read by Older Man (Campbell employs a wonderful bit of body language to keep what little suspense there is on the front burner)—meant for Jack, the younger man (Irving all shucks and naiveté, perhaps a few ounces too many for a seasoned gold miner in search of precious prizes of all types and shapes), the play is essentially a two-hander.
As the plot points are revealed (most of them readily guessed, hence O’Neill’s wish to throw away what amounts to a rehearsal script for things to come) and a few refrains of “Sweet Betsy From Pike” are also shared by both men, the expectation of a sparkling gem is soon replaced by a wonderful feeling of having been the proverbial fly on the wall, witnessing the neophyte playwright’s first attempt at finding his voice.
Those unfamiliar with his canon might find the production dull and listless; for the rest, it’s a marvellous peek into the fledglings’ craft. JWR