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Reviewed by:
  • Springs Eternal by Susan Glaspell
  • Sherry Engle
Springs Eternal. By Susan Glaspell. Directed by Sam Walters. Orange Tree Theatre, London. 12 October 2013.

The Orange Tree Theatre’s staging of Springs Eternal by Susan Glaspell, which ran from 11 September through 19 October 2013, was historically significant for several reasons. First and foremost, the production served as the world premiere of Glaspell’s last play. In the midst of World War II, after a decade of novel writing, Glaspell worked on Springs Eternal, setting the play in 1943. On submitting a draft of the play to a friend at the Theatre Guild, she was told that audiences did not much care for discussions of war, preferring the more diversionary fare of musicals. She then set the play aside and returned to novel writing.

The production also marked the start of Sam Walters’s final season as artistic director of the Orange Tree Theatre after an impressive forty-two-year career. In his program notes, Walters stated that Glaspell, as “an important and inspirational figure in twentieth century American theatre, [has] been unjustly overlooked.” What is more, the Orange Tree claims the distinction of having produced “more Glaspell plays than any theatre in the world.” Indeed, Springs Eternal marked its fifth full-length Glaspell play, along with five previous productions of her one-acts. In bringing to life this particular “overlooked” work, Walters masterfully guided his actors in a seamless theatre-in-the-round production. Company members comprised a remarkably strong cast. [End Page 119]

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Julia Hills (Margaret) and Stuart Fox (Owen Higgenbotham) in Springs Eternal. (Photo: Robert Day.)

[End Page 120]

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Auriol Smith (Mrs. Soames) and Miranda Foster (Harriet, behind) in Springs Eternal. (Photo: Robert Day.)

Although the playwright calls Springs Eternal a comedy in three acts because it uses humor and witty repartee throughout, it is the theme of war that permeates the play. Owen Higgenbotham (Stuart Fox), the head of the household, had published a book titled The World of Tomorrow after World War I in which he set out an idealistic vision of the future. Now, with war again raging in Europe, he has become disillusioned and depressed, retreating into a cynicism that impacts others in the family, particularly his patient second wife Margaret (Julia Hills), the sensible, sage-like housekeeper, Mrs. Soames (Auriol Smith), and a pacifist son, Harold, called “Jumbo” (Jeremy Lloyd).

Glaspell opens the play with a botched elopement between friends of the Higgenbotham family, young Dottie (Lydia Larson) and middle-aged Stewie, a Washington-based politician (David Antrobus). Stewie, as it turns out, is already married to Harry, Owen’s first wife and the mother of Jumbo. While Dottie fumes upstairs, Margaret attempts to explain their dysfunctional family dynamics to Doctor Bill Parks (Antony Eden), who has paid a house call in lieu of the old family doctor; young Doctor Parks, convalescing after two months back from Africa, carries the subject of war into this somewhat sheltered household. Mrs. Soames also brings up the subject as she dusts Owen’s office, telling that her son, Freddie, was so influenced by Owen’s book that he enlisted, “and when I cried he said he had to think of the world of tomorrow.” This insight touches the cynical Owen, who takes out his reaction on Margaret just as Harry appears.

Harry (short for Harriet) delivers most of the comical lines of the play; of Stewie’s supposed elopement, she comments, “Naturally I take an interest in my husband’s elopement. It is an awkward moment for Stewie to elope. We have an important weekend with the Newcombs.” The batty Harry, played with delicious timing by Miranda Foster, lends comic relief and adds a quirky aspect not usually seen in Glaspell’s work. At the center, however, the irascible Owen confronts moral dilemmas as historian, writer, and father. Owen argues with his practical wife and conscientious-objector son; and he clashes with the brash serviceman/doctor, who attempts to explain the harsh realities of war to civilians. Fox was convincing in his portrayal of Owen and was strongly supported by...


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pp. 119-122
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