Over the course of our class we have read and discussed two one-act plays: “Trifles” and “Everyman”. After analyzing each we can tell that there is a significant difference in the complexity of character development and theme in comparison to the longer plays we analyzed. Throughout this paper, I will explain key aspects of both “Trifles” and “Everyman” as one-act plays in an attempt to explain the benefits of shorter plays for both the audience and the playwright.
In “Trifles,” Susan Glaspell does a fantastic job of developing the plays main subjects right at the start. The play is based around a the murder of John Wright while continuously analyzing his marriage throughout. In the play we notice that the ladies tend to stick together, resembling how they have been pushed together by their misogynistic society. This concept also aids in highlighting their faithfulness to one another over their spouses which is investigated in throughout the course of the play. We see this happen as the play begins to take place in John and Minnie Wright's deserted home. We are told that the setting is the kitchen which is a disaster with unwashed dishes, a portion of uncooked bread, and a grimy towel on the table. Mr. Henderson the district lawyer lands at the house joined by Sheriff Peters and neighbor Lewis Hale. The spouses of two of the men, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, both of whom seem upset and dreadful, follow the men inside. In this small portion of “Trifles” we have already begun to develop the female characters as well as the idea that the women of this play are more loyal to one another rather than their male counterparts. This idea is one that is seen all throughout society and Gaspell is able to highlight this is a way that appears to be the perfect amount. I say this because it does not take the play in a different more political direction. In longer plays we may see these ideas taken to a more political scale in showcasing feminism or the lack thereof. Whereas, Gaspell includes a more subtle representation of these ideas by basically stating that this is the way it is in this play and simply continuing rather than getting wrapped up in the politics of it all she focuses on her story.
As we continue through “Trifles”, we see how a man’s word is rarely questioned as Mr. Peters consoles the lawyer that nothing has been moved in the house since he saw it last, in spite of having sent one of his men ahead to set up a fire. He explains how he would not have been able to keep one of his men there the earlier day to guard the house since they were excessively occupied. Mr. Peters claims that knew George Henderson would show up the following day for them to go over the house to look for anything that would reveal what has happened. This allows us to see the worth that is placed on a man’s word as well as the way in which the male characters are undeniably trusting the word of other male characters when there is simply no reason to trust that there was not a single person to enter the house that night. These are just two of the themes highlighted in just the beginning of this play.
As the characters begin to develop in “Trifles” we notice that things are rolling along rather quickly. For example, Mrs. Peters character changed dramatically across the time span of the play. When we initially meet Mrs. Peters we'd never surmise she'd become anyone's partner in crime as the stage headings portray her as 'a slight wiry woman, with a thin nervous face.' These directions give the audience no reason to see her as a bit of a revolutionary. All things considered, for the greater part of the play, she's something contrary to that. We even see Mrs. Peters rationalize the men when they hurl chauvinist remarks the women's way. However, when the plot intensifies we see her begin to break out of the mold. Once Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale solve the murder the audience can see that Mrs. Peters initially wants to do the right thing in pursuit of justice, rightfully so as her husband is the sheriff. Despite her initial thought, Mrs Peters decides to hide the evidence along with Mrs. Hale. We believe that this is because she felt as if she could relate the feeling of rage that Mrs. Wright must have felt after her husband killed the canary to the time when she was a child and a boy killed her kitten with an axe.
Another short play in which the themes as well as character development is much quicker and tends to highlight fewer details is “Everyman.” Often times shorter plays are described as “having a lot going on.” I believe that this is indeed true and for good reason. In order for a playwright to design a well-developed one-act play a lot of thought must go into how character development and theme can be displayed simultaneously. We notice such rapid character development in plays like “Everyman.”
In “Everyman” there are a wide range of characters in the beginning as the play opens as the messenger calls to the audience 'The Summoning of Everyman.' He says that the play will show the momentary idea of mortal lives and the apparently pleasurable yet seemingly noxious impacts of our transgressions. The messenger expresses that Fellowship, Jollity, Strength, Pleasure, and Beauty will vanish after death, and that God will bring Everyman for a general retribution. Then the messenger request the audience's consideration to hear God talk. In this short message to the audience we have already been slightly introduced to multiple characters; later we realize that many of these are minor characters in the play. Just like in “Everyman”, many shorter plays tend to have fewer major characters and more minor characters. That being said it makes things much easier for the playwright to be able to focus more on the development of the few main characters in the short amount of time rather than having to figure out ways in which the playwright could develop multiple characters at once.
As we go through “Everyman”, we notice that the play centers around the concept of morality and highlights the theme of how sin and human nature is seen in the material world. We notice this right away in the play during God’s first line which stated “Drowned in sin, they know me not for their God; In worldly riches is all their mind, They fear not my rightwiseness, the sharp rod; My law that I shewed, when I for them died, They forget clean, and shedding of my blood red…” This quote is a quick way in which the playwright was able to give the audience a clear understanding of the type of play they are about to observe. At the beginning, we see how Everyman’s life is seemingly overflowing with sin, which, at the start, is represented in his companionships. For example, when Everyman goes to his companion Goods for comfort, Goods uncovers that he has really been dimming Everyman's spirit and pulling him farther from God. In this case, part of what the play described as wicked is Everyman's guilty pleasure in the material world. The playwright is able to use Everyman’s guilty pleasure to establish this theme of sin and human nature.
After understanding multiple ways in which the playwrights have developed theme as well as characters across the two plays we begin to question their reasoning for making the play one-act. Often times there are multiple reasons a playwright may decide to write a one-act play, one of the more common reasons is the lack of financial resources. Whenever a theatre company is low on resources it is smart to produce a one-act show because not only are less actors or actress’ involved but less stagework is needed. More often than not a one-act play sticks to the same setting throughout the entirety of the play, for example, we see this in “Trifles” as the play progresses solely in the home of Minnie Wright. Another interesting aspect of a one-act play is that they tend to have a large central plot. For example, when looking at some of the longer plays we analyzed in class there was more than one plot whereas in “Everyman” and “Trifles” there is a more centralized plot. In “Everyman” the plot is centered around the life as well as the death of the character Everyman who essentially displays all of mankind. Then in “Trifles” the plot is centered around seeking justice and solving the murder of Minnie Wright’s husband. This idea of having a centralized plot also saves money because it too means that the play will not need too many extra characters or elaborate props to help change the setting or develop a subplot. The final reason I think that shorter one-act plays can be beneficial is because it gives many young playwrights some of the necessary experience that may be beneficial before moving on and writing a much longer play.
After understanding the character development and themes in both “Trifles” as well as “Everyman” we can tell that there are significant differences between these aspects as they are portrayed in shorter plays verses longer plays. When looking at both the development of the characters as well as the theme, we noticed that the playwrights of these shorter plays have to think in very creative, out of the box ways to ensure that all of this will be able to take place in a way that the audience can still pick up on each aspect and it not feel rushed. We concluded that shorter plays tend to have a more centralized plot as well as a single setting. Overall, the way in which Susan Gaspell as well as the playwright for “Everyman” developed these one-act plays where the audience felt as if they were not lacking many of the aspects that are elaborated upon in longer plays was absolutely phenomenal.