Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell
September 22, 2022 Issue
A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.
PART 3A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY KURT BENUD
Firebox Theatre Company Makes a Successful Debut with Two
Classic American One-Act Plays: Trifles and Hello Out There
The cast for the Firebox Theatre Company' inaugural presentation of Trifles, upstairs at the Cotton Company Event Gallery,
includes (from left) Cassie Ford, Peter Battis, Cora Hemphill, Mike Southern, and Trevor Telenko (photo by David Leone)
Wake Forest, NC, is home to the brand-new Firebox Theatre Company. Their inaugural production -- Two American Classics: Susan Glaspell's Trifles and William Saroyan's Hello Out There, directed by Tim Artz -- opened Thursday Sept. 15th, upstairs at the Cotton Company Event Gallery at 306 S. White St. in Wake Forest. There will be two more 8 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23rd and 24th, as well as a 3 p.m. performance on Sunday, Sept. 25th.
Let the record state that I heartily recommend this show. Let me also extend a hearty welcome to this new production company.
Trifles by Susan Glaspell:
Susan Gaspell's Trifles, first performed in 1916, is a whodunit that takes place in the kitchen of John and Minnie Wright's farmhouse. John has been murdered, and Minnie (the prime suspect) has been arrested. It was their neighbor, Mr. Hale (Michael Southern) who had discovered the crime. At the top of the show, he is returning with Sheriff Peters (Peter Battis) and County Attorney Henderson (Trevor Telenko), as they conduct their investigation; Mrs. Hale (Cora Hemphill) and Mrs. Peters (Cassie Ford) also accompany them.
The men investigate in the kitchen, while the women stand to the side, out of the way. When the men leave the room, the women move in and look around. The men return briefly and then exit again, and the women continue.
Significantly, the men are unable to uncover any definitive evidence. The women, however, spot several little clues concerning the nature of the relationship between the Wrights, clues that might be pertinent to the case. Mrs. Hale then feels the weight of having to make some very important decisions.
Gaspell's decision to name the piece Trifles is a stroke of genius. As a noun, trifle is defined as "a thing of little value or importance." As a verb, it means "to treat [someone or something] as unimportant", or "to talk in a jesting or mocking manner with the intent to delude or mislead", or "to handle something idly." It can also mean "to talk or act frivolously."
Are the clues discovered by the women important? Or are they merely "trifles"? Do they happen upon these clues through "trifling"? Do the men "trifle with" the women, concerning their approach, their concerns, and their intentions? For that matter, do the men actually consider the women to be "trifles"?
Trifles offers social commentary, concerning the marginalization of women and the resulting detriments to our society. It is also a study in the concepts of isolation and of compassion.
This production is well-cast. The five actors form a smooth-running ensemble that establishes the interrelationships (and even some "pecking orders") among the characters while advancing the plot. The Mrs. Hale/Mrs. Peters duo is especially tight. For a variety of reasons, Mrs. Hale emerges as the most memorable character.
The set includes a rocking chair in which Mrs. Hale nearly sits. Her sudden revulsion at the idea works very nicely.
Upon the men's first return to the kitchen, County Attorney mocks the phrase that he has just heard in the women's conversation -- (let me coin a phrase here: "just like a man!").
Equally impressive: the women's reactions to their discoveries. And: the period-appropriate hand-washing apparatus.
Cassie Ford (left) and Cora Hemphill star in the Firebox Theatre Company's inaugural production of Trifles (photo by David Leone)
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- There is a point at which one of the women refers to having been laughed at. She had been mocked and ridiculed, but I found it bothersome that there had been no actually laughter. Perhaps, one (or more) of the men could chuckle just a bit (and maybe even cast a condescending glance).
- County Attorney's volume does not match that of the other characters (and, therefore, is just a bit difficult to hear and understand). Mrs. Peters' volume was also somewhat too low at the start, but improved soon. Both of these are easily corrected.
- I would like to have seen two characters listed differently in the program: "Sheriff Peters" rather than "Mr. Peters" and "County Attorney Henderson" instead of "County Attorney."
- Because of sight lines for audience on the right and on the left, I felt that a few of the beats of dialogue were blocked too far downstage.
Hello Out There by William Saroyan:
The Firebox Theatre Company' production of Hello Out There stars Cora Hemphill (left) and Lauren Ragsdale (photo by David Leone)
Would you believe in a love at first sight?
Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time.
William Saroyan's Hello Out There, first performed in 1941, is basically a two-person dialogue with "extras" joining in at the end. "The Young Man" (Hayden Tyler) has been jailed as an accused rapist in a small Texas town. "The Girl" (Lauren Ragsdale ) is the cook for the jailhouse. It is night, and nobody else is in the jailhouse.
The Young Man's "side of the rape story": he had been invited to a woman's house; she had unexpectedly demanded payment for services; and when he refused, she cried "rape." A significant fact (which the woman had withheld from Young Man): she was married.
Feeling isolated in his jail cell, Young Man begins calling out, "Hello out there!"
It soon becomes apparent that, metaphorically, she is also a prisoner, that she needs his company as much as he needs hers.
They bond, they make plans, they concoct a scheme ....
Hayden Tyler is hauntingly, mesmerizing as The Young Man -- enough said. Lauren Ragsdale is also quite impressive as The Girl. The chemistry that develops between them is remarkable. Without becoming "sappy," both manage to endear themselves to the audience and to tug at our heartstrings.
It is possible that The Young Man is simply conning The Girl, but I believe that they actually fall in love with each other. And this raises the question: Is Tyler playing a character who actually falls in love? Or is he playing a character who is thoroughly convincing as he "plays the part" of one who is falling in love? To Tyler's credit, we will never know for sure.
Cora Hemphill and Peter Battis round out the cast believably as "The Woman" and "The Man."
One of the strengths of the production of this piece is in the choice of top-of-the-show and post-show music. And a mega-strength: the choice to have the songs performed by Josh Hemphill, listed in the program as a "Troubadour," who, guitar in hand, strolled onto the set playing and singing Hank Williams' song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." And, as Hemphill exited and the song faded, having Tyler sing/hum a few bars was yet another stroke of genius. Finally, (although the name of the song escapes me), punctuating the performance with another thematically relevant (and equally haunting) song was also brilliant.
Hayden Tyler and musician Josh Hemphill star in the Firebox Theatre Company' production of Hello Out There (photo by David Leone)
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- Although the boundaries of the jail cell were well-established using cinder blocks as corner stones, the line of demarcation might have been a bit clearer if those corners could have coincided with the edge of the facility's designated acting area.
- Although a folding cot is definitely easy to move in and out and is probably appropriate furniture for a "small town in Texas" jail cell in that time period, I would have preferred to see something more stable (perhaps, a roll-away bed) used. (At a few points, I was a little nervous about Tyler's safety. AND: this change would have enabled him to imbue his performance with even more physicality.)
- I wish the program had included the names of the songs (because I forgot one of them).
Firebox Theatre Company makes excellent use of the Cotton Company's space and stages the plays with audience on three sides. I wonder, however, if a platform and/or stools to accommodate the second and third rows would enhance the viewing experience.
The uncredited scenic and lighting designer(s) deserve a tip-of-the-hat. Set construction was ably handled by Will Holden and John Riddle.
With Brenda Holden handling props and collaborating with Gina Artz on costumes, the 1910- and the 1940-realities are realized.
SO: on behalf of Triangle Review, I want to welcome Firebox Theatre Company to the "Triangle Theatre Scene" and express our desire to see more of their work.
Side Note: With the recent popularity of festivals of "10-Minute Plays," events known as "An Evening of One-Acts" have been sadly neglected. I am grateful to see a return to this format. Perhaps, Firebox Theatre Company's success will pave the way for more such evenings.
Two American Classics: Susan Glaspell's TRIFLES and William Saroyan's HELLO OUT THERE (In Person at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23-25), directed by Tim Artz and starring Cora Hemphill as Mrs. Hale in Trifles and The Woman in Hello Out There, Michael Southern as Mr. Hale in Trifles, Peter Battis as the Sheriff in Trifles and The Man in Hello Out There; Trevor Telenko as the County Attorney in Trifles; Hayden Tyler as the Young Man in Hello Out There; Cassie Ford as Mrs. Peters in Trifles; Lauren Ragsdale as The Girl in Hello Out There, and Josh Hemphill as The Troubadour in Hello Out There (Firebox Theatre Company at the Cotton Company Event Gallery in Wake Forest). VIDEOS: https://www.facebook.com/fireboxtheatrecompany/videos/. 2022-23 SEASON: https://www.fireboxtheatre.com/performances. THE PRESENTER: https://www.fireboxtheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/fireboxtheatrecompany/, and https://www.instagram.com/fireboxtheatrecompany/. THE VENUE: https://www.thecottoncompany.net/, https://www.facebook.com/fireboxtheatrecompany/thecottoncompanyofwakeforest, and https://www.instagram.com/thecottoncompany. DIRECTIONS/MAP: https://www.google.com/maps/. NOTE: Some these plays' themes might be Rated PG-13. TICKETS: $20, plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DONATE TO: Firebox Theatre Company and the Cotton Company Event Gallery.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with North Carolina Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.
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