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.
While it's true that the previously reviewed Only Me from Wingspan Theatre proved to be the most affecting entry, even if it's among the least ambitious, one offering from Ground Zero Theater Company and director Kimberlyn Crowe is a close second: Austin playwright John Walch's The Rebirth of Beautiful. The ingratiatingly insecure Matthew Halteman co-stars as Joseph, an unemployed chef who's obviously been leaning hard on his therapist during these stressful days. His wife, Mary (Terri Ferguson), is politely trying to wriggle out of John's increasing pressure to have a child and is frustrated that he hasn't found a job yet. "Have people stopped eating?" she wonders acidly to him, but not as herself--as the sock-puppet alter ego (Joseph has one too) that her husband's counselor has suggested the pair adopt to speak honestly of their feelings. The sock puppet becomes an independent, sadistic, and tender mediator in this surprisingly moving look at a husband and wife willing to try anything to reconnect.
Araby, Ground Zero's presentation from Dallas playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, should really be advertised as a staged reading. Although there are no scripts in hand, the long-distance phone communication between married partners Blanche (Marie Del Marco) and Otto (Wm. Paul Williams) keeps the actors pretty much planted in place. Still, Cheatwood has found a subject with palpable dramatic urgency--the wife's cervical cancer biopsy results awaited while they are separated by his constant work travels--and then suddenly turns up the heat with two questions dangling like a double-edged blade overhead. Was her condition caused by a venereal disease, and if so, did Otto infect Blanche, or did she stray with someone like the imaginary desert lover (Matthew Halteman) who woos her between phone calls? Despite the show's static conception, director Crowe and her cast ultimately reward us with these queasy intrusions into domestic order.
There's a lot of political huffing and puffing in los de abajo have nowhere left to fall, a world premiere from Cara Mia Theatre, but unfortunately few houses of oppression manage to be blown down. With as much valor but less accomplishment, writer-director-actor Marisela Barrera attempts to conquer the same scary, multiheaded hydra that Octavio Solis did in Dallas Theater Center's recent debut of his Dreamlandia. Solis understood how to compare and contrast the effects of ethnicity, nationality, education, economic class, and gender, and so could dazzle us with illusions fashioned from their arbitrary combinations. Barrera's 40-minute script is more a potluck stew than a multicourse feast, with themes thrown together haphazardly and generally overcooked. Thanks to the wicked, inspired performance I saw, however, the ideas stuck to my ribs, if only in that down-home way where palate matters less than appetite. Laughter is the key to making converts to the revolution, and the audience guffawed plenty at the four performers who mixed TV pop culture, satirical newspaper headlines, and sexual shock tactics as if they were an improv comedy troupe (albeit with unusually poetic concerns).
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.