Open: 08/21/10- Close: 08/28/10
Chains Of Dew|
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Heather Violanti
Susan Glaspell (1876-1948) is one of the forgotten founders of American drama. She was a playwright of remarkable versatility, writing everything from taut, realistic suspense drama (Trifles) to dream-like Expressionism (The Verge). Often her works combine styles, as in her bittersweet 1922 comedy Chains of Dew, which overlays some heady Expressionist symbolism on a realistic milieu.
Zephyer Rep’s charming production of Chains of Dew is the work’s first East Coast appearance since its 1922 premiere. It may not be as daring as some of the more recent Glaspell revivals (in the past year, both The Verge and Trifles were produced at experimental hothouse Incubator Arts), but it is a fine, upstanding production that doesn’t gloss over the play’s challenging ambivalence.
Chains of Dew pits one woman’s growing self-awareness against her husband’s diminishing self-worth. Diantha “Dotty” Standish is a seemingly content housewife, until her husband, Seymore, comes home sulking from a “business” trip to New York…and his would-be lover, Nora, comes crashing into their lives. The daring Nora, who bobs her hair and wears form-fitting flapper dresses, comes preaching birth control, much to the consternation of the proper matrons in Dotty’s little “Middle Western” town. Birth control’s the cause du jour for New York’s smart set…and you sense that Nora really does want to change the world, even if she has no clue what she’s talking about. Dotty shocks Seymore by embracing Nora’s rhetoric, hair-style—and independence. As Dotty discovers she has dreams of her own beyond Seymore’s, Seymore feels smothered by the “chains” of responsibility. In the end, as her mother-in-law makes clear, Dotty must choose between a new life without Seymore….or returning to way things were.
It’s not an easy choice, and Glaspell makes Dotty’s final decision ambivalent. Director Gretchen Ferris plays up this ambivalence while still embracing the play’s loopy comic moments. Nora’s confrontation with the town matrons is giddy fun, as is Dotty’s triumphant entrance in full flapper regalia. Other than the slightly stiff, exposition-heavy opening scene, Ferris keeps things moving briskly, too. The entire performance clocks in at a speedy 90 minutes, including one intermission.
The cast clearly enjoy their roles, bringing them to life with rich detail. Long-limbed Ambien Mitchell is a memorably high-spirited Nora, a confident woman who’s not afraid to laugh at herself. Lindsey Zelli plumbs the complicated nuances of Dotty’s psyche, ably embracing the comic and tragic, while Linda Blackstock brings genuine warmth to Mrs. Standish, Dotty’s mother-in-law. Aaron Gaines’ earnest yet duplicitous Seymore evokes Dick van Dyke by way of Jimmy Stewart. Seth Blum is a suitably authoritative Leon Whittaker, one of Nora’s cronies at the Birth Control League, while Quentin McCuiston brings a mischievous charm to James O’Brien, a visitor from Ireland. Allie Rightmeyer brings a wounded prim-ness to Edith, the mousy neighbor with a dark secret, and the charismatic, husky-voiced Courtney Moors evokes a young Kristen Johnston as Mrs. MacIntyre, the local busybody. Moors brings razor-sharp comic timing to a role that could grate in the wrong hands.
In all, Zephyer Rep’s Chains of Dew admirably balances the play’s comedy with its more serious, questioning tone lurking just beneath the surface. It’s a worthy production of a rarely-seen play.
Wings Theatre : 154 Christopher Street