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Review: Spotlight On Susan Glaspell

A little drum roll, please…today I have the distinct pleasure of sharing with you a brand new theatre group to the Quad Cities’ cavalcade of venues. Premiering this past weekend were the New Athens Players, inspired by Davenport native and prolific author, journalist, actress, and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Susan Glaspell. Per an article on Wikipedia her works were often “set in her native Midwest [that] typically explore contemporary social issues, such as gender, ethics, and dissent, while featuring deep, sympathetic characters who make principled stands.” She is also credited with discovering Eugene O’Neill. Together with her husband, George Cram Cook (also a Davenport native), she founded the Provincetown Players. I would love to share more of her background, but time doesn’t permit.

New Athens’ inaugural production is Spotlight on Susan Glaspell which consists of three parts. First is an adaptation by founder and director, Augustana College classics instructor, Mischa Hooker, of Glaspell’s short story “The Rules of the Institution” which examines the rigidity of constraints imposed by a women’s rehabilitation home and a young socialite’s defense of a resident’s right to self determination, the second is Hooker’s own composition titled “An Iowa Seer Comes Home to Greece” which is a retrospective on Glaspell’s husband, a prolific talent himself, and constructed from works of both Glaspell and Cook’s long time friend Floyd Dell. They close with what is Glaspell’s best known work, the one act play, Trifles.

Hooker does an admirable job adapting the story behind “Rules”, but it isn’t easy adapting prose to stage and I found the script and dialogue to be a bit stilted. However, Hooker’s talent shines in “An Iowa Seer” in that it is a warm, fond reminiscence of Glaspell’s husband, an extremely talented, introspective and sensitive man, during their expatriation to Greece.

Hooker has assembled a virtual armada of a cast of some of the Quad Cities’ most well-known and prolific talent including Dee Canfield, Kate Farence, Patti Flaherty, Kitty Israel, Alaina Pascarella, and Michael Carron. That alone is impetus to see this show.

As mentioned, the “Rules” script and dialogue were a bit stilted so the performance came off as a little stiff and somewhat forced. But that did NOT diminish Glaspell’s message. This is not to say it was bad, it was simply the least “best” of the three.

Dave Bonde, Dee Canfield, and Michael Carron assume the roles of Cook, Glaspell and Dell, respectively. Bonde’s portrayal is sensitive and lyric and Canfield’s is an affectionate memoir. Both capture their characters to perfection but sometimes they become so reflective that they let their volume drop a bit too much. That’s something I never thought I’d say about Canfield who has an extremely strong voice and which only confirms the depth of her commitment to the character. Carron’s portrayal of Floyd Dell is fluid and natural and ultimately believable as Cook’s best friend.

The pinnacle of this trio is Trifles which is based on a murder that Glaspell covered while a journalist in Des Moines following her graduation from Drake University and it is here that her genius shines. In this one act play about a woman accused of murdering her apparently abusive husband Glaspell masterfully exposes the investigators’ misogyny and the intuition and empathy of their wives telling a BIG story in minimal time.

Shining yet again as the neighbor of the slain husband is Michael Carron and the stand out in this segment is Alaina Pascarella as his wife.

This production should be put on your “to-do” list to appreciate Glaspell’s work and support this fledgling theatrical endeavor. Bravo to New Athens Players for its bold leap of faith.

Spotlight on Susan Glaspell continues Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 5 at 2:00 pm at The Village Theatre, 211 East 11th Street in the Village of East Davenport.

And now I have an announcement. WVIK is launching a new podcast focusing on community theatre in the Quad Cities. I and the producer of my reviews, Jaren Michelle, will co-host “Footlights.” The podcasts will drop twice a month on

Wednesdays. We have some great guests on tap, including the aforementioned Mischa Hooker and we are excited to be bringing this to the Quad Cities. Our first episode will drop on March 15th so stay tuned.