Greenhouse Effect

Susan Glaspell's 1921 psychodrama The Verge (Looking Glass Theatre) belongs to a tired artistic tradition that goes something like this: if talent doesn't spin your wheels, maybe madness will do the trick. Claire Archer is a woman born of good standing but bored with her privileged life. All the familiar patterns of her existence make her a bit manic. So she rants and raves, rejects her husband, disgusts her lover, and shocks the shit out of her daughter. Holed up in her greenhouse, she cultivates a strange new flower she calls the "breath of life"— a metaphor for her misfit "otherness."

Under the direction of Martha Elliot, this is very serious stuff, but these are also very silly lines. At one point Claire laments with all the profundity of a prototypical Natalie Imbruglia: "I am not a flower. I am too torn." High comedy could salvage this revival, but only Dellalyn Rothstein, in the role of Claire's twee daughter, throws any fun into the material, denting the trite dialogue with perfect comic rhythm. As Claire, Ellen Archer musters a fine rage, but it's too much for the character. Claire fails miserably as the tragic type; she comes across not as a tortured genius but rather as a self-absorbed princess who errs in fancying herself brilliantly misunderstood. She rehashes the madwoman in the attic routine ad nauseam until she comes undone in a final, highly implausible plot twist.

Glaspell won a Pulitzer for Alison's House, a 1930 play based on the life of Emily Dickinson, and helped organize the Provincetown Playhouse. She's billed here as a neglected master of American drama, yet there's nothing in this particular production to suggest The Verge is worth resurrecting, even as a cheap rip-off of Kate Chopin.

 
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