Critical Overview

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Although The Verge received mixed reviews for its first production by the Provincetown Players in 1921, unfortunately, the majority of them were negative. Many of the reviewers reacted negatively because they found the play dense and confusing. Some were also put off by Claire’s view of the world. They found her to be unpleasant and annoying. Linda Ben-Zvi quotes Alexander Woollcott of the New York Times calling Claire ‘‘a neurotic and atypical woman,’’ and went on to say, ‘‘We greatly fear that the average playgoer will be offended by Miss Glaspell’s abject worship of the divinity of discontent.’’ Others, who did not understand the play, offhandedly dismissed it. As Gerhard Bach reports, the title of Percy Hammond’s review for the New York Herald pretty much sums up his opinion: ‘‘What The Verge Is About, Who Can Tell.’’ One of the things several reviewers did note about The Verge, however, was the techniques that it borrowed from German expressionism. The film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari had opened in the United States in the spring of 1921, just prior to the play’s production. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was a film that became well-known for its use of distorted sets and exaggerated visual elements, and reviewers saw many parallels between the film’s visual style and Glaspell’s theatrical style. As J. Ellen Gainor notes, ‘‘Reviewers at the time of its premier also saw stylistic resemblance in the scenography to recent developments in expressionist film technique, especially, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.’’ Even though many reviewers panned the play, some audiences did appreciate what Glaspell was trying to do. As Barbara Ozieblo notes in her essay, the play received acclaim by members of The Heterodoxy, a radical woman’s club who saw that ‘‘here was a playwright who dared to show how society takes its revenge on a woman rebel.’’ They strongly felt that Glaspell’s message was important and should not be dismissed just because of the difficult stylistic elements. In fact, Gainor quotes Ruth Hale of The Heterodoxy, who wrote a letter to the New York Times in response to Woollcott’s review, chastising him for his negative comments. She felt the play deserved support in spite of its complexity, ‘‘I do feel very strongly that, if we can not always quite understand, it would be smart of us to try.’’

While The Verge did not receive glowing reviews upon its first production, recently it has been ‘‘rediscovered’’ by feminist theorists who find it an important and overlooked work. After a seventyyear absence, the play was once again presented in 1991 at a conference at Brigham Young University. Modern critics now recognize the value and daring in Glaspell’s message and creative style and find The Verge an important work of feminist drama. Liza Maeve Nelligan notes, ‘‘The Verge operates under an increasing emphasis on an individuality that rejects old notions of ‘femininity’ and struggles to form a new definition of womanhood,’’ and Marcia Noe writing in Susan Glaspell: Essays on Her Theater and Fiction calls it ‘‘a remarkable play.’’ It seems that The Verge may have been a bit ahead of its time, but modern reviewers are now able to look at the play with fresh eyes, and many of them find it an important and courageous work.

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Essays and Criticism