MAKING HISTORY is a look at Elizabethan Ireland just before Tyrone’s Rebellion. A seldom studied period in the US, this time marked the beginning of the end of Irish culture and autonomy under Britain, which would continue for the next 300 years. The characters in the play are unaware of what place in history they will have, but know they’ll be a part of something bigger than their own truths. This Irish Heritage Theatre production has peaks and pitfalls, but ultimately makes this history human.
We are introduced at the beginning of the play to Harry (Bob Weick), secretary to Ireland’s greatest hope, the Earl of Tyrone. Weick quietly shines throughout the play. His accent is subtle, not even really there, and his performance thoughtful and understated: perfect for an intimate audience. The earl, Hugh O’Neill (Ethan Lipkin), on the other hand is bombastic and intense. Lipkin’s game is going from small to suddenly big, and he can do big! But there doesn’t seem to be internal transformation in the character to elicit the change. His brogue unfortunately undermines his cadence, but his stage presence and delivery is appropriate for a rebel lord.
We are given a lot of history in the first scene, the list of names and places broken up by the comic-relief friend of O’Neill, Hugh O’Donnell (Kevin Rodden). Everyone is putting their chess pieces in place for a rebellion. O’Neill and the Archbishop (John Cannon), discuss the stated theme of the play somewhat obviously, what director Peggy Mecham calls “the tension between historical events and their interpretation”. The history lesson is set aside when O’Neill admits has just eloped with a young English woman, Mabel, sister of the nearby marshal of Queen Elizabeth’s army in Ireland. We now can see the historical figure of the earl as a human.
Stephanie Iozzia is a breath of fresh air as Mabel. She glows in a gorgeous costume by Michelle Mercier, and charms onstage with a natural flow to her lines. Her sister, played by Melissa Amilani, doesn’t fare as well in the costume department, for some reason dressed in brown homespun, but shines and sallies forth as the racist English opinion in the play. “People who fail to cultivate the land don’t deserve that land” is Britain’s excuse for its colonial oppression and well stated here.
The rebellion comes and goes during intermission, and the rest of the play presents the bleak aftermath of the life of Hugh O’Neill. His friend O’Donnell is given more dimension by Rodden, and as the servant Harry tries to avoid giving him the most important piece of news, Weick’s tender performance leaves us tearing up.
Years later, in Rome, O’Neill is a shell of a man, tended still by Harry. Another questionable costume choice has him in beggar’s rags as opposed to well-worn, lord-in-hiding threads. Another recap of the theme and the play ends awkwardly, mostly the fault of the author Brian Friel.
The opening night performance had many strong points, and much of the cast is top notch. Scene changes were slow and haphazard on opening night, but as the run continue this should be a great play for history buffs and hibernophiles.
Plays and Players Theatre, 114 Delancey St.]. May 25th-June 10th, 2017; irishheritagetheatre.org