Set against the backdrop of the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, this stylistically thrilling play explores the immigrant experience then and now through the tragedy of "the fire changed America". Sophie, a sixteen-year-old seamstress who died in the fire, haunts Malena, a modern Hispanic girl who is in conflict with her sister, Isabel. Sophie is filled with guilt because she did not save her sister, Rose, from the fire.
When Sophie, along with the ghosts of other dead factory girls, appears to her, Malena encourages Sophie to tell her story, never imagining that they will all be transported back in time to relive the tale. An ensemble of actors portrays the ghosts of those who died in the fire and seamlessly takes on individual roles in Sophie's story. Sophie has arranged a job at the Triangle Factory for Rose to keep her from running the streets with a gang of "rowdy" boys. But now Sophie owes the foreman, Mr. Jake, a favor. He demands that Sophie spy on the union organizers who are her friends. If she refuses, Sophie and her sister will be fired.
Sophie, unaware that her sister is in love with Max, meets him one night at a dance and they fall in love. Already angry at Sophie for making her work at the Triangle, Rose discovers this relationship and, in her anger, lies, telling Max that Sophie has "traded favors" with other men. Max, crazed with anger and jealousy, rejects Sophie who, alone and afraid of losing her job, decides the only way out is to give up her dreams and marry Louis, a successful man she doesn't love. Then someone strikes a match and there is a fire. In this tale of regret, responsibility and forgiveness, Sophie reveals her terrible secret and finds peace while helping Malena see her sister in a new light.
CAST: 4 women, plus an ensemble of 4 women, 4 men
(May be expanded.)
Commissioned by The School of Theatre and Film at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 2008
Photos by Tim Trumble, Arizona State University
Young people can find their history studies boring, learning all those dates and names. But those of us who love history know that moving beyond the simple facts to explore personal stories reveals the action, humor and pathos we experience today and teaches us the hard-won lessons of the past.
It is through artistic expression that history is brought to life. Theatre is especially suited to this task. Playwrights embed the historian’s collected data in deeply personal narratives revealing the profound human dilemmas of history that challenge us today.
As author Andrea Barrett said, “We turn to fiction for something different: not just the facts but the feelings; not just the documents but the texture of the experience.”
With stories that are informed by both the historian’s discoveries and the artist’s interpretation, the complexities of life that animate history are revealed.
In Triangle, Malena quotes her teacher as saying, “When we tell stories about the past it comes alive again in the present.”
Historians search for the truth through discovering and analyzing documents, photos, letters and a host of other clues to the past. The artist uses the historian’s work to imagine the human stories surrounding the facts. Through the live action of story and character, we are connected to the past through our shared humanity.