By Susan Glaspell
Directed by Kaye Saxon
Venue: Orange Tree Theatre
Date: Saturday 26th April 2008
First off, the set. We start with an office environment. Tables, printing press to our left, telephone and small models of people to our right. Across from us a bench with open boxes, and other boxes strewn about. A poster on the floor gives contraceptive advice. There are three wooden chairs, and a map of America on the door far right to us, with a number of white tags stuck on it. The second scene is in the Mid-western town where Seymour has his lair, or home, as it’s sometimes called. Rug, settee, chairs, and some fancier desk ornaments give us the picture. There are also two rag dolls on one of the chairs. This set carries us through the rest of the play.
The play took some time to get going. We meet four characters; Nora, a free-thinking, bob-haired woman who’s passionate about birth control; Leon, who’s a publisher and who wants to encourage Seymour to develop into the great poet he believes him to be; O’Brien, an Irish chap who also wants to be a poet, and who provides a useful outsider’s point of view; and Seymour himself. Even at this early stage, it’s possible to see the sanctimonious, conceited prig in Seymour’s language and behaviour. Anyone who sets himself up as a complete ignoramus by telling everyone else how ignorant and immature they are compared to him, is asking for a thoroughly deserved comeuppance, which he gets, to a certain extent, although he’s spared the full suffering of the husband in A Doll’s House.
Of course, we don’t get to see the full range of this man’s self-centred chauvinism until we meet his family in the second scene. The first scene introduces the four characters whose lives are so closely linked in New York. There’s even a semi-jocular attempt to pair up Seymour and Nora, to help Seymour free himself from his social acceptability (by shocking his straight-laced fellow Mid-westerners), but Seymour ducks the opportunity, as he regularly does, we learn. Back in his Mid West home, Seymour’s wife Dottie/Diantha, has been conducting a little rebellion of her own. She’s been skipping the social events – dinner, afternoon tea – to study, and to study poetry at that. She clearly wants to support Seymour in his dream of being free to write poetry, as a good wife should. She hasn’t yet realised that Seymour likes fitting his writing into those few brief moments allowed to him when he doesn’t have to sacrifice his talent to take care of everyone else. Naturally he’s horrified to find his wife is trying to think for herself, but before he can restore normal service, Nora turns up for a visit. We learned in the first scene that she’s been asked to go out in the field, to spread the Birth Control message, so the first place she goes to is Seymour’s home town, where she immediately stirs up a whole heap of trouble, much to our amusement.
Dottie/Diantha is young, very attractive, and gentle, though it’s possible to see real strength of character in her. Seymour’s mother is a wonderful character. She’s the one who makes the dolls, and I reckoned she had a lovely mischievous streak even before she admitted to making the dolls with carefully designed features as a form of revenge. She has some marvellous lines. As a mother of seven children, it carries some weight when she says seven is too many, and that turns to hilarity when Seymour points out that he was her seventh child! Despite her support for the Birth Control ideas, she’s the one who finally convinces Diantha to let go of her new ways and support Seymour by allowing herself to be a burden to him (yes, I know it sounds weird, but it makes perfect sense in context).
There was some discomfort expressed in the post-show that the wife should give up her new-found interests to support her husband’s career. Personally, I think it’s the better option – how on earth would the writer have ended the play otherwise? We’ve already had A Doll’s House, so we don’t need a rehash of that, and it’s a dilemma that many women face, even now, and both options are valid in their own way. Again, the accents were excellent, as were the performances, and apart from the slow start it was a thoroughly enjoyable play which I wouldn’t mind seeing again, as if I’m likely to get the chance.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me