Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Drama Under the Influence
Also see Susan's review of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune
American Century Theater in Arlington, VA, continues its exploration of neglected twentieth-century American plays with a sampler of works written by women between 1914 and 1931. The program, with the general title Drama Under the Influence, has its bright spots, but some of the material is more interesting academically than dramatically.
Director Steven Scott Mazzola brings together, on Elizabeth Baldwin's bare-bones set, short pieces by writers whose names are still familiar today (Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein) and others who were better known, to greater or lesser degree, in their own time (Susan Glaspell, Sophie Treadwell, Eulalie Spence, Rita Wellman). Taken as a whole, Drama Under the Influence (the puzzling title apparently refers to the fact that most of the works were written during the years of Prohibition) examines a variety of social and personal issues through the less familiar female perspective.
The crowd-pleaser is Parker's sharply witty Here We Are, from 1931. As a pair of newlyweds (Colby Codding, Jennifer B. Robison) take the train to New York for their honeymoon, they struggle for words and pick fights to avoid confronting the fears and expectations of their new life together.
The most interesting discovery is Trifles, written by Glaspell in 1916 and inspired by a notorious murder case she had covered years earlier as a newspaper reporter. Following the murder of a farmer and the arrest of his wife, the sheriff (Jay Tilley) and the county attorney (Steve Lebens) search the farmhouse for clues, helped by a neighbor (William Aitken). The men dismiss as "trifles" the conversation between the sheriff's wife (Tanera Hutz) and the neighbor's wife (Katherine McCann), but the women consider some aspects of the situation that the men never even notice.
Hot Stuff (1927) by Spence, a writer of the Harlem Renaissance, concerns an ambitious woman (Hutz) determined to make money any way she can. Treadwell's Eye of the Beholder (1919) uses expressionistic techniques to depict a doll-like woman (Lauren Judith Krizner) forced to be everything to everyone: combative with her husband (Tilley); childish with her lover (Codding); imperious with her lover's mother (Mary McGowan); and cowed by her own Victorian mother (Ellen Young).
Suppressed Desire is Glaspell's 1914 satire on psychoanalysis, which was then becoming trendy in New York's bohemian circles. Wellman's For All Time (1920) is a dreamlike evocation of a family, primarily women, dealing with the death of a beloved son in the Great War. And Stein's Photograph: A Play in Five Acts (1920) toys with language and sense in Stein's poetically nonsensical way, but those five acts tend to drag and become less interesting the longer they go on.
American Century Theatre