Even faithful theatergoers may not have come across the work of early 20th-century playwright Susan Glaspell on the stage. And that’s one reason why two of her one-acts are part of the Women Wonders Festival this week.
The month-long event, a showcase for rarely produced plays by American women, comes to a close Tuesday and Wednesday with Judith Light headlining staged readings of Glaspell’s 1915 satire, Suppressed Desires, and 1916 suspense drama, Trifles, at the Century Center for the Performing Arts.
One of the founders of the Provincetown Players and an American pioneer in exploring feminist and gender issues on the stage, Glaspell was a controversial figure in her day, creating female characters who fought for their principles and their personal fulfillment. She satirizes Freudian psychology in Suppressed Desires, where a woman reverses her faith in the discipline when her marriage is threatened. Trifles centers on a murder inquiry that baffles male investigators, only to be unraveled by two of the widow’s friends who sympathize with the killer.
Light, who returned to the stage last year in Wit after a lengthy tenure in daytime (One Life to Live) and primetime (Who’s the Boss?) television, flew in from California to take part in the festival, which also pays tribute to Wit producer Daryl Roth for her contributions to Off-Broadway. Peter Von Berg, Julia Prud’homme, Mark Hofmaier and Bo Foxworth round out the cast.
“It is an exciting way to bring some classical, often neglected, examples of theater to a contemporary audience,” Light said through a publicist. “Staged readings are a pleasure for actors, and a great opportunity for audiences to experience a variety of impressive plays.”
Festival coordinator Alfred Christie directed all five productions in the series, which also featured Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden, Ketti Frings’ Look Homeward, Angel, and Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. He had considered staging Glaspell’s 1931 Pulitzer Prize-winning Alison’s House, inspired by the life of Emily Dickinson, but nixed the idea because it had been produced in New York just a couple of years ago.
Although Christie has been pleased with the performances and the feedback he’s received from audiences, he explains that his goal isn’t to remount any of the plays as a full-scale production. “They’re big-cast shows that you wouldn’t see done because no one has the resources to do them Off-Broadway or on Broadway,” he said. “But [the actors] don’t just sit there and read. We have a suggested set with lighting and music, so the audience feels like they’re seeing a play.”
Last year’s festival focused on the works of French playwrights Jean Giraudoux and Jean Anouilh. Christie doesn’t know what he’ll be offering next summer but, as with the first two festivals and the Century Center’s ongoing Ibsen series, he’ll be looking to fill a void.
“You’re always looking for a gimmick,” he affirms. “So while other people are doing Shaw festivals and Shakespeare, we’re trying to find a niche–something a little different.”