This past weekend on November 16 and 17, UTM’s English and Drama Student Society presented Trifles in the MiST Studio Theatre, a production described as “a play built upon the ruins of Susan Glaspell’s text.” Susan Galspell’s Trifles, often included in American literary canons as an example of an early feminist drama, is predominantly a play about the divisions between men and women. Trifles shed a light on the established gender roles of its time to address how men contributed to female oppression. Director Christina Orjalo and her creative team acknowledged the vast changes in feminist thought since the play’s original release by reimagining Trifles as a new feminist work for a new generation. This production interrogates Glaspell’s play through an intersectional feminist lens and populates the stage with a diverse all-female cast.
The original Trifles begins with three men entering the empty home of Mr. and Mrs. Wright, followed by their wives. The men in the play investigate the murder of Mr. Wright. The majority of the suspicion for his murder falls on his wife, Mrs. Wright. Throughout the investigation, the male characters belittle the female characters and dismiss their attempts to help with the case. But as the men search the upstairs of the house for evidence, their wives find clues to solve the murder downstairs in the kitchen. They piece together that Mrs. Wright was being abused by her husband, giving her a motive for his murder. Understanding how it feels to be oppressed by men, the wives hide the evidence that would lead to Mrs. Wright’s arrest, which can be read as a gesture of female solidarity. Although Glaspell’s play addresses the feminist issues of its time, it only truly represents white middle class woman. The EDSS production seeks to include the types of female voices that the original production left out.
In Christina Orjalo’s adaptation of Trifles, the division of power isn’t defined by gender, but by privilege. By making all of the characters in the play female, she is able to show how women oppress one another based on their differences. The show illustrates that patriarchal oppression is not just a system enforced by men, but an ideology that has been unconsciously internalized by both men and women. This production attempts to explore most forms of modern social oppression that affect women. In Ally Matas’ portrayal of police Sergeant Henderson, she incorporates the same dismissive and domineering qualities in her performance that the male version of her character exhibited in the original text. Henderson’s demeaning comments towards her more traditionally feminine wife, played by Zahra Sina, points to the internalized sexism that can exist in relationships between women.
This kind of internalized discrimination is incorporated within every female relationship in the play. Officer Zaidi, played by Rochelle Thevasagayum, fights to gain respect as a woman of color in the police force, but in the process, she dismisses women with less prestigious careers than herself. P. I. Garcia, played by Saskia Muller, tries to compensate for her lack of police training by antagonizing the police officers who are treating her like she’s incompetent. And all of the women dismiss Louise Hale (Daniella Khayutin), a Russian immigrant who works in the building where Mr. Wright was murdered. All the while Officer Peters, played by Jane Mackenzie, is dealing with internalized homophobia against herself as she attempts to reconcile her romantic feelings towards the accused Mrs. Wright, and come to terms with her queer identity. The show attempts to personify the idea of intersectionality by forcing every character to confront both her privilege and her lack of privilege, how she is both the abused and the abuser.
The show is thematically strong, however there are minor technical issues that leave it feeling unfinished. The set was covered with crumpled solo cups and party debris, which became distracting, especially when the cups were accidently kicked aside in the middle of a scene. Some of the dialogue that was written by the cast became unnecessarily expositional and they occasionally spelled out the underlying themes of the show instead of letting the subtext and symbolism speak for itself. This show does pack an unbelievable amount of social commentary into a 30-minute one act play. The cast touches on racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, work place discrimination, and unrecognized domestic labour. The show also effectively inverts and interrogates a canonized classic by showing that women can convincingly play the same types of roles that men have always been allowed to play.
Christina Orjalo’s Trifles is a show with a lot of intelligence and heart, and an unbelievable amount of potential. The show represents diverse voices in its conception, creation, and execution, and brings new relevance to a historical piece of feminist drama.