The English and Drama Student Society is dishing up feminism and an unorthodox re-telling of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles—and you can see it all on campus this weekend. I sit down with Muhaddisah Batool, art director of Trifles, who tells me that her idea to re-stage the play came from an assignment she had to complete for Jacob Gallagher-Ross’s class, Contemporary and Modern Theatre and Drama. The idea for the project was to take a play and showcase how it would be staged today, so that it produces the same “shock value” that it would have in the same year that play was staged.
When thinking about the content of the play and how she would stage it today, she says, “If this is about first-wave feminism and about privileged, cis-gendered, white, able-bodied women and what they need to do to reclaim their space—I figured as hard a pill it is to swallow then—I think now that wouldn’t pack as much as a punch. Now, it’s a matter of catching up people who are systematically marginalized.”
Trifles was originally a 1916 play, focusing on a group of men and women who show up to a murder scene at a house. When the women solve the crime and realize the motive, the men overlook their brilliance because of the simple fact of their femininity.
Director Christina Orjalo tells me that their version touches on the same storyline, but the difference? An all-female cast. “Our version is the same foundation but we took out all the men and put in women, because women don’t get enough chances to get up there. It’s the same circumstances where a wife kills her husband […] the women are mostly all police officers.” She says that their play has strong themes of “power dynamics, internalized homophobia, and internal sexism.”
With all the work they’ve put into the re-focusing of this show, the cast and crew are mostly excited about what audiences will walk away with. Daniella Dela Peña, head of wardrobe and assistant director says, “It’s been a really fun process, and I think […] it was great just being able to see what women and women of colour were able to bring to the table. It was just nice to see the widespread of interest in the play itself.”
Saskia Muller, who plays Investigator Garcia in Trifles, echoes the same thought. “It’s been really great working with a team of strong, young people. Joining the project, I didn’t have reservations. I was really excited to explore this in a 21st century lens. Being white, cis-gendered and straight, I realized that I need to recognize my privilege in the room as my character and work with that.”
Muller says that since her character’s fight is to prove herself, she feels that most women today, including herself, have to go through this. Watching lots of strong male leads on television growing up, Muller says that she’s always felt that she’s needed to top it.
It seems that a lot of the cast and crew may identify with these same notions. Stage manager Bronwyn Keough tells me that through the audition process, actors had to prove how much this discrimination still exists. “We asked them to come in with a monologue and we had a set of questions for them specifically on whether or not they ever felt discriminated against as a woman, or whatever gender they identified with, and we wanted to get their opinions on how we’re taking on Trifles.”
According to the cast and crew, this show will be entertaining for all, especially if you’re willing to see strong female leads in roles they’ve seldom played in the past. Keough sums it up nicely when she says, “[Audiences] will be seeing a different take on power dynamics within relationships with women, because so often a woman’s role in theatre is determined by her relationship with a man, and that’s absolutely not the case here because there are no men present. It’s just based on their relationships with themselves and their relationships with the women around them.”
EDSS’s production of Trifles will run November 16-17 at the MiST Theatre.