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THE BASICS:   Susan Glaspell’s one-act play TRIFLES (1916)  has been coupled with Eugene O’Neill’s very first play, A WIFE FOR A LIFE (1913),  as this year’s Lunchtime Theater offering at the Shaw Festival.  TRIFLES runs in repertory, at the Court House Theatre, through October 12th.  Please note the early curtain time: 11:30 am.  The full program runs about 50 minutes.  There is no intermission.
THE PLAYLETS:  Glaspell’s TRIFLES, which derives from a sensational Iowa murder of 1900, is a whodunit of sorts, with a smart feminist subtext. Interestingly, neither the murdered husband nor his distraught widow (the #1 suspect) ever appear on stage.  O’Neill’s A WIFE FOR A LIFE is a real curiosity, an improbable romantic triangle that treads perilously close to old time “mellerdrammer”.  This tale of two prospectors buddies, and the woman they have both loved, shares at least two things with TRIFLES–a gloomy rustic set, and the absence of a major character from the stage (The Woman).
THE CAST, ETCETERA:  Five actors are employed for the Glaspell piece, with the three men continuing on in the O’Neill.  The very same set is used, and the transition between the two playlets is so seamless that, if you are not paying attention, you may not realize that you are watching the second one until you are well into it!  The acting is uniformly fine, with Graeme Somerville and Jeff Irving  standing out, because they have been given such nicely contrasting characters.  Camellia Koo’s run-down cabin set is a beauty, and there is effective lighting by Louise Guinand.  Original music by Alesandro Juliani, hummed a cappella (four-part harmonies!) by the cast, was for me the highlight of the show.  
Glaspell’s play, which on the surface is somewhat bland, sneaks up on you, and is ultimately a worthwhile theater experience.  Perhaps next season we’ll be seeing Ms Glaspell’s ALISON’S HOUSE, for which she won the 1931 Pulitzer Prize.  As for the O’Neill, the best I can say is that it shows that a playwright can improve.  Greatly!  WIFE/LIFE, which was apparently roasted by critics of the day, was believed to have been destroyed by the playwright, but a copy resurfaced in 1950, along with a few of his other juvenile efforts.  Why the Shaw people thought this relic was worth reviving is not clear, and why they chose to end the program with it is even more puzzling.  Taken as a whole, the TRIFLES program falls in the lower half of Shaw lunchtime offerings.  Because of the two-Buffalo O’Neill, the best that I can give it is…
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO:  This means trouble.   A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both.  Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS:  Passable, but no great shakes.  Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic.  Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS:  I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater.  If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS:  Both the production and the play are of high caliber.  If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS:  Truly superb–a rare rating.  Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart.  Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

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