Drama: Staging “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell Essay
Nowadays, Susan Glaspell (1876 – 1948) is being commonly referred to, as one of the most discursively significant American female-playwrights. This point of view is thoroughly justified, because it is not only that Glaspell did prove herself a prolific playwright/writer (she wrote eight full-length plays and nine novels), but she also succeeded in ensuring that, as a result of having been exposed to her literary/dramaturgic works, people are able to broaden their intellectual horizons.
The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to Glaspell’s one-act play Trifles, performed for the first time in 1916 at the Wharf Theatre in Provincetown, Massachusetts (Glaspell para. 1). The reason for this is that, being ahead of its time, this play is essentially about exposing the sheer fallaciousness of the patriarchal assumption that women happened to be intellectually inferior to men. As the play effectively illustrates, when it comes to paying attention to ‘trifles’ (seemingly insignificant details), women often prove themselves unsurpassable, which can be seen as the best proof of their analytical mindedness – something that in the early 20th century used to be considered the exclusively masculine virtue. The play’s action takes place in the kitchen of Mr. Wright’s (the murdered husband of Mrs. Wright/Minnie) farmhouse. Even though the play’s script does not contain any specific references, in this respect, one can assume that the concerned action takes place during winter in one of the Midwest rural regions.
In order for us to be able to realize the actual significance of the play’s themes and motifs, we will need to make a brief inquiry into what used to be the actual ‘world’ of Trifles. In this respect, it will be thoroughly appropriate to mention the following qualitative aspects of a rural living in the early 20th century’s America, relevant to the play’s discursive significance:
Social. Throughout the mentioned historical era, American society used to be gender-discriminative – as of 1916, women in America were not even allowed to vote (Carpentier 94).In its turn, this explains why in Glaspell’s play, the characters (three men and two women) strive to act in the manner fully consistent with what used to be assumed accounts for the social roles of the representatives of each sex.
Religious. Throughout the same historical period, the country’s social realities used to be strongly affected by the religion of Christianity (Carter 580). This is the reason why there are a number of (explicit and implicit) religious undertones to how the play’s characters indulge in verbal exchanges with each other.
Political. Even though the subject of politics is being seemingly excluded out of the play’s discursive context, this is far from being the actual case. The reason for this is that, due to its clearly defined feminist sounding, Trifles promotes the cause of women’s emancipation – the idea that in the early 20th century was seen as a rather controversial one.
Economic. When accessed from the economic perspective, Glaspell’s play will appear fully consistent with what used to be the era’s realities of one’s life on a farm. At the time, American farmers were highly ‘self-sustainable’, in the sense of how they used to go about managing their farms (Taylor and Norris 280). The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the motif of Minnie’s preserves, prominently featured in the play.
Place and Aspects of Staging
In my opinion, The Dixon Place Theatre (New York, 161A Chrystie Street) fits well for staging Trifles.
The reason for this is that, as it can be seen above, the concerned ‘theater space’ is large enough to accommodate the actual onstage- action, performed by five actors in the form of dialogues that take place between them. At the same time, however, the fact that the backstage is situated in close proximity to two rows of chairs (audience), will help ensure that, during the performance’s course, the actors, on one hand, and the audience members, on the other, would be able to establish an emotional bond. As Wilson and Goldfarb noted: “The experience of being in the presence of the performer in more important to theatre than anything else” (7). In its turn, this will contribute towards helping the theatrical production in question to end up proving a success. Moreover, the proposed ‘theater place’ appears fully consistent with the postmodernist approach to staging this play, which I intend to deploy.
The Focus of the Play
The spine of the play by Glaspell is something that derives out of the apparent existential antagonism between the play’s male and female characters. That is, the viewers’ exposure to Trifles is expected to encourage them to think that it is not only that the women’s way of intuitive thinking is able to yield analytical insights, but that it is also much more morally sound, as compared to the rationalistic one, commonly associated with men. Therefore, while in charge of this play’s production, I will pay a particular attention to ensuring that there is much of a gender-related psychological plausibility to how the actors engage with their characters.
I intend to adopt a postmodern approach to directing Glaspell’s play. That is, I will deliberately encourage the actors to proceed with ‘living’ their characters in the manner that is being fully consistent with what happened to be the viewers’ own unconscious anxieties, in regards to the play’s subject matter – even when this can only be done at the expense of undermining the extent of the performed action’s historical veracity. Therefore, I plan to allow the actors to apply a fair amount of improvisation, while on stage – for as long as it is being justified circumstantially. The part of my postmodern approach to staging Trifles, will also be deciding in favor of the minimalist settings.
My Directorial Concept of Trifles can be defined as follows: I conceive the production of this play to serve the purpose of reminding the viewers about the dangers of male-chauvinistic arrogance –something that nowadays pushes the world towards the outbreak of the WW3. Therefore, while being formally concerned with the initial phases of a criminal investigation, which took place in the early 20th century’s America, my production of this play will in fact be about exposing the counterproductive essence of the so-called ‘traditional’ (patriarchal) values.
Design of the Production
The way, in which I perceive the Overall Design of the production of Trifles, is reflective of the earlier mentioned Directorial Concept, on my part. Its main principle – the production’s design-elements should prompt viewers to pay attention to the discursive significance of the staged action, rather than to what happened to be this action’s contextual characteristics. In its turn, this justifies the adoption of the minimalist approach towards ensuring that the play’s mise en scène is indeed thoroughly appropriate. The reason for this is that the adoption of this specific approach will help actors to represent their characters in the script-faithful and yet highly unique manner.
In full accordance to what has been said earlier, there will be only a few elements to the production’s scenery. The most important of them is going to be a backdrop, with the background of a typical farmhouse-kitchen being depicted in it. On the stage, there will be a table, a kitchen-drawer (with Minnie’s preserves in it) and a few chairs. I think that my decision in favor of the mentioned scenery-elements is fully justified – while being necessary for ensuring the production’s dimensional/spatial plausibility, they nevertheless happened to be conventional enough, in order not to divert viewers’ attention from the staged action.
My Directorial Concept presupposes the relative unimportance of making sure that the onstage-action is being ‘costumed’ in close adherence to the early 20th century’s provisions of fashion. The reason for this is that, as it was implied earlier, I am primarily concerned with ensuring the production’s psychological (rather than historical) plausibility. Therefore, I think it will be fully appropriate for the actors to appear in front of the audience, while wearing contemporary clothes. After all, this will contribute even further towards prompting the audience members to believe that there is indeed nothing outdated about the play’s themes and motifs.
I suggest that the onstage-action should be illuminated with a few footlights (producing bluish-white light), situated off stage. This will add to the play’s atmosphere of coldness – in both: physical and metaphorical senses of this word. The proposed suggestion also calls for the production’s musical accompaniment to be discursively consistent with this atmosphere. In this respect, the highly atonal and ‘evil-sounding’ music of Claude Debussy should come in handy. The reason for this is that I believe it will contribute substantially towards establishing a proper perceptional mood in the ‘theater space’.
While assembling the cast, I will specifically look for those actors that are being fully capable of coming up with the realistic/psychologically plausible act. The measure of their qualification, in this respect, will be assessed, in regards to the concerned individuals’ ability to use the technique of ‘emotional recall’, as the mean of attaining ‘oneness’ with whatever the characters they would like to play (Wilson and Goldfarb 103). At the same time, however, I will also look for the actors capable of improvising, because such their ability should prove rather indispensable, within the context of how they would go about establishing an emotional link with the audience.
The research I conducted, did affect my production-related suggestions rather substantially. One of the reasons why I can confirm that this indeed happened to be the case, is that it was namely after I familiarized myself with what account for the postmodern principles of a theatrical performance, that I decided to adopt the posture of a postmodern director. I believe that this move, on my part, is fully consistent with the fact that the play’s main theme is discursively universal – just as it used to be the case at the beginning of the 20th century, the ways in which female and male psyches operate, continue to remain largely irreconcilable. The same applies to the theme of humanism, prominently featured in the play – due to this theme’s universality; it correlates well with the concept of a postmodern theatrical production.
Carter, Shannon. “Living inside the Bible (Belt).” College English 69.6 (2007): 572-
Carpentier, Martha. “Susan Glaspell’s Fiction: Fidelity as American Romance.”
Twentieth Century Literature 40.1 (1994): 92-113. Print.
Glaspell, Susan 1916, Trifles. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.
Taylor, Janet and Joan Norris. “Sibling Relationships, Fairness, and Conflict over
Transfer of the Farm.” Family Relations 49.3 (2000): 277-283. Print.
Wilson, Edwin and Alvin Goldfarb. Theatre: The Lively Art. New York:
McGraw-Hill, 2012. Print.
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