By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Echo Theatre revives a one-act by Susan Glaspell, an early Pulitzer Prize winner who's rarely cited in mainstream literature today but who has become a mainstay in feminist studies. Her Trifles (1916) reminded me disarmingly of a 1940s radio play or a short story by Shirley Jackson or even of an early episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents..., albeit with a clean but not clumsy swipe at smug patriarchal assumptions. The setting is a turn-of-the-century Nebraska farmhouse where the farmer's neck has been broken in bed from a bizarre noose rig-up. His wife has been hauled in by authorities, but did she do it? A county investigator (Dennis Millegan) scours the house but leaves the kitchen virtually untouched because it is so full of "trifles"--insignificant flotsam of a woman's daily domestic labor. Meanwhile, the sheriff's wife (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) and a neighbor's spouse (Sarah Einerson) slowly, unwillingly piece together the story of an antagonistic marriage from an unraveled quilt project, a broken birdcage, and some unclean jelly jars. This leads to a tiny but very nasty discovery that provides the murder's key and the show's Hitchcockian plunge into the macabre.
Director Ellen Locy paces the bits of evidence well as they are overturned, but she might have edged Sarah Einerson to ease up on the bug-eyed, purse-lipped humorlessness she works too hard as a farm wife.
A lobby card declared this show to be a "dreamy overview of revolution," and such a mist-shrouded description might be the most charitable. Polarities are set up between Barrerra as La Pintada, a sexual revolutionary who enjoys the taste of her own menstrual blood a la Germaine Greer, and Marinca Calo-Oy as Camilla, an assimilationist who crows victory now that "Edward James Olmos has his own network TV show." It was David Lozano as a lecherous general and Raul Trevino as a transvestite troubadour, however, who tickled audiences into processing the more confrontational stuff with their brainy comic bravado. Despite the wide swings of focus in Barrera's script, they endow departing ticketbuyers with the sensation of having witnessed another stage in the rowdy formation of an increasingly articulate and impatient American identity.