THE WOMEN OF IRELAND (Irish Heritage Theater): Short Irish classics

irt-womenThe Irish Heritage Theatre co-production with Plays and Players Theater presents a compilation of assorted short plays, of or by Irish women. From modern to historic, tragic to fantastic, THE WOMEN OF IRELAND views the feminine from many angles, creating a fleshed out sculpture of Irish life.

It begins with a surreal first hit: Hearts by Lucy Montague Moffat, directed by Tina Brock. Two women converse over laundry about the hearts they’re knitting and stuffing inside men. Mary Pat Walsh is completely at home in this and all her roles throughout, with a convincing accent and natural cadence to her lines. At about seven minutes long, this is a truly tiny play, and a bit confusing for the audience to begin with.

Riders to the Sea, one of John Millington Synge’s early plays set in the harsh and beautiful Aran Islands, comes in stark contrast to the levity of the previous act. The language is older and stranger, but Barbaraluz Orlando as Cathleen and Katie Stahl as Nora have a firm grasp of it. Brian McManus, as the doomed Bartley, enters with a sometimes too hectic motion, but has a striking presence, excellent delivery, and adds the soft sh to his s’s, as they do in the “wesht” of Ireland. Walsh is again in her element, mourning the deaths of her six sons and the helpless fate of herself and the other women. This full on tragedy, directed by Tori Mittelman, harkens back to Greek roots, with strange masks and mourners. The short shaIsolation,dow puppet dramatization is abrupt and stilted in its movements, but succeeds for a second when a wind cutout grows using the magic of lighting and perspective to full effect.

Isolation, the third act, is a “palate cleansing sorbet” as one audience member put it. Repetition, flashlights, clock ticking, and daily commands create a sad and funny collage of modern life: “Mind the gap” “Turn left”. In this piece, timing is everything; sometimes the performers miss a beat, but the idea is strong.

Cathleen Ni Houlihan is W.B.Yeats and Lady Gregory’s call to rise for Ireland. Set in the time before the 1798 rebellion, a mysterious old woman (Jackie Cohen) arrives the day before young Michael (McManus) is to be married. Cohen’s Cathleen is stoic and bloodthirsty, a refreshing contrast to the usual depiction of patriotism, but lacks mystique. She fits more naturally into the final act, Poster Boy about the obvious misogyny of a chip ad. This is the only overtly feminist scene of the bunch.

In the end, the production, with all these dramatic colors strung together, makes a fine portrait of the Women of Ireland, the writers who saw them, and the descendants who remember them.

[Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St]. April 5-21, 2018; irishheritagetheatre.org.

 

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