Theatre Thoughts n Things: Trifles, The Mafia Game

As some of you may know – well, anyone who reads me knows – I’m teaching a course at my university this semester, an introductory theatre course. I have 4 sections of students, and it’s my job to keep them occupied and discovering the wonderful world of theatre and plays during a weekly 1-hour supplementary discussion section.

This morning, I woke up with two realizations. First, I had to lead 2 discussions today on Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. Second, I had no idea how to do it and was scared like no other. I pictured myself, stammering and staring in front of a room full of bored college students, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, and then lowering my head in defeat as the bell rang.

However, I came up with a plan. A lesson plan, incorporating both Trifles and a super-fun party game.

Introducing: Trifles, the Mafia Game.

Essentially, it’s a simple version of Mafia. I dealt out a deck of cards, one to each class member. 5 of them were clubs; those 5 were the Five-Club Mafia. Their goal: eliminate all the townspeople, AKA the rest of the class, who were all dealt spades. We started off in “night” mode, with everyone asleep on their desks. I asked the Mafia to wake up, and by silent gestures, decide on a victim. Then, they go back to sleep, and everyone wakes up for “day” mode, in which we find out which townsperson has been “killed,” and they are now “dead” and out of the game. Together, the townspeople must put in three nominees for lynching, and by a majority-vote, lynch one of their own, who then reveals his/her status. If the townspeople eliminate the mafia, they win. If the mafia gain a majority in the town, they win.

This ties back to the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell, in which a murder has been committed, but the sheriff, county attorney, and a farmer overlook key pieces of evidence, disregarding what two women find (a dead bird, a knotted quilt) and referring to those items as “trifling,” when they are indeed pivotal to the case. Subsequently, the two women make off with the evidence.

In my first section, I think the discussion went on a bit too long because we only ended up having time for two rounds, which is a problem when you have 14 students. However, after two deaths, and two lynchings of townspeople who turned out to be innocent, we were left with 5 Mafiosos and 5 townies. Technically, a stalemate, but I awarded the win to the Mafia, who largely remained out of suspicion. I think that only maybe one of them was even suggested as a potential Mafioso.

My second discussion section yielded a more interesting result. In that section, I had 15 students: 7 male, and 8 female. As luck would have it, unlike the previous section, whose Mafia was 3 male and 2 female, this section’s Mafia ended up being 4 female and just 1 male. In the first round, the victim was male, and another male (innocent) was lynched. In the second round, the victim was again, male, and another male was lynched, but he turned out to be one of the Mafia. In the third round, the class woke up to find that the third victim was – once again – male. Now, down to 2 men and 8 women, I put forth the suggestion to the class…

“Notice that the men are being taken out one by one? Maybe, just maybe, there’s an all-female Mafia that’s slowly eliminating the guys, continuing the work of the ladies from Trifles?”

After that suggestion, the townspeople lynched a female classmate, who turned out to be one of the Mafia. We only had time for one more round, and with 9 students left (2 male, 7 female; 3 Mafiosos and 6 townspeople), the townies had already decimated the Mafia and had a higher probability to win, but I decided to see what would happen. We went to night, and the ladies of the Mafia switched it up and eliminated a female townie. When we switched back to day mode, I think that the townies caught on that the mafia were trying to cover up their identities even further, so the only names that were nominated were girls. Oddly enough, of the 6 girls that were left, the three names that the townspeople offered up for nomination were the three innocent girls, so the townies ended up lynching one of their own. If we would have gone on one more round, the Mafia could have turned the game around, but since class was over, I ended up giving the win to the 4 remaining townspeople, despite the 3 remaining Mafia ladies never really arousing any suspicion from the rest of the class. Even though the townspeople won by default, I think that had we gone on one more round, the Mafia would’ve taken control.

Overall: Had we more time (and if I had more time to think and be creative) it could have been more successful, but I think that it was a good exercise, involving acting, entertainment, strategy, and a little reference to the play we were studying. It worked better when the Mafia happened to be (almost) all-female, like what happened in my second section, but I think that people enjoyed it, even if they did not get too much out of it.

For a homework assignment, I asked them to reflect on their experience, and connect it to performance and to Trifles.

Which I kind of just did, myself.

I give myself an A.

Good job Jacob!

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4 thoughts on “Theatre Thoughts n Things: Trifles, The Mafia Game

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