Susan Glaspell’s 1916 play Trifles appears in anthologies as an example of American realism and feminist drama. But Brooke O’Harra, co-founder of the Theatre of the Two-Headed Calf, seems to have another genre in mind for her production: science-fiction. Based on a real-life murder that Glaspell covered for an Iowa newspaper, Trifles concerns three men and two wives who search a farmhouse for clues in the crime’s aftermath. Though the men dismiss the women’s interest in the farmwife’s quilts and preserves as “worrying over trifles,” these small details reveal to the women a motive for the killing.
The production opens with an eerie overture composed by Brendan Connelly. These thumps and chimes, as well as Justin Townsend’s lights, which bathe everyone in an amphibious glow, make Peter Ksander’s set appear otherworldly. Bouts of wordless singing and the long pauses that O’Harra inserts into the lines double the short play’s running time and lend the script an ominous tension. Some of these interventions provide the play with a spooky, sculptural quality; many seem merely silly. Still, O’Harra succeeds in taking a creepy approach to a somewhat mundane text. She’s not a director to be trifled with.