Susan Glaspell’s Chains of Dew


The Plays by Women series highlights exceptional dramatic literature written by women, from the past and the present, that we hope to see produced on Bay Area stages.  These plays feature strong female protagonists and stories that emphasize the universal resonance of women’s lives.

Chains of Dew
By Susan Glaspell
Recommended by Alicia Coombes (Dramaturg)

Production History:
2010: Zephyr Rep (NYC), 2009: San Francisco Free Civic Theatre, 2008: Orange Tree Theatre (UK), 1922: Provincetown Playhouse (NYC)

180px-Susan_GlaspellSynopsis & Rationale:
Susan Glaspell’s Chains of Dew, written in 1922, was her only unpublished play. On the surface this is a simple but ironic farcical tale of a young modern woman (Nora), arriving at the home of her would-be lover (Seymore), spreading her ideas of Birth Control to a stuffy midwestern town (chaos ensue). However, the style quickly gives way to real tension when Seymore’s wife (Dotty) jumps on the Birth Control bandwagon and shocks Seymore by being more thoroughly modern than he is prepared to live with. A few of the characters (namely, the men and a few of the stuffier women) could be caricatures when handled by the wrong actors, but the roles of Nora, Dotty, and Seymore’s mother are juicy, nuanced, and unpredictable. The ending is just ambiguous enough to leave the reader hopeful and sad at the same time – and the subplot of the control over women’s bodies is still incredibly relevant nearly 100 years later. There has been one recent semi-professional production in San Francisco (presented in a limited run by the San Francisco Free Civic Theatre), but the play deserves to be known by a wider audience, and offers an opportunity to bring historical context to how deeply intertwined politics and sexuality have always been in America.

Act I:                NYC, the offices of the Birth Control League
Acts 2 & 3:     The Standish Home in Bluff City
Time:              circa 1920

Character Breakdown:
8 Roles:         5 Women, 3 Men

  • Nora Powers: Secretary of the Birth Control League – Brash, Modern, Bobbed Hair
  • Seymore Standish: Poet and Bank Director
  • Diantha (“Dotty”), Seymore’s Wife: Polite, demure, but more suited to Nora’s lifestyle than her own
  • Mrs. Standish, Seymore’s Mother: Wry, clever, modern ideas in a traditional shell
  • Mrs. Macintyre, Maven of Bluff City Society: Blustery, proper, traditional
  • Edith, Bluff City Matron: Flirtatious, proper, gossipy.  Seymore’s idea of the sort of housewife Dotty “should” be
  • Leon Whittaker: Associate Editor of the New Nation
  • James O’Brien: Young Irish writer visiting America

Leon: Why, you could ruin him in a week! And think what you would mean to him.
O’Brien: Yes, one dynamic person!
Leon: Nora, declare yourself! Will you or will you not ruin Seymore?
Nora: I will!
Leon: My brave girl!
Nora: Just one thing worries me.
Leon: What?
Nora: What will I do with him—after he’s ruined?

Chains of Dew
was written in 1922 and is therefore in the public domain. However, the only manuscript copy is housed in the Library of Congress. You can find the International Susan Glaspell Society’s abridged version of Chains of Dew, adapted by Cheryl Black, here.

The first handful of pages is a whirlwind synopsis of the play’s production history (or lack thereof), and the general critical response of the time.  It’s a bit extraneous, and makes more sense after you read the play, but is interesting nonetheless.

Further Reading:

  • Susan Glaspell:  New Directions in Critical Inquiry
Martha Carpentier essay/compilation for Cambridge Scholars Press

  • Susan Glaspell’s Analysis of the Midwestern Character
Marcia Noe – From Books at Iowa 27 November 1977
Copyright: The University of Iowa


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