“I’m fatal. Terminal.”
This woman, with her “boundless capacity for bitterness” is “dying of spite,” as she struggles to understand her life before it’s over in Woman and Scarecrow, the latest offering from Irish Heritage Theatre.
Marina Carr’s 2010 existential, feminist play is two hours of wildly mournful keening, filled with rich Ianguage and intense questions and rueful comedy. Peggy Mecham directs with a delicate hand.
An unnamed Woman (an incandescent and subtle portrayal by Kirsten Quinn) is in bed, unconscious; most of what we watch is a drama playing on her internal stage. Besides the bed there is a tall wooden cupboard, a wardrobe which holds something huge, with black feathers. The intermediary between them is her alter-ego, Scarecrow (Mary Lee Bednarek, whose sepulchral thinness serves her well in this terrifying role, although the accent often gets in her way).
We learn that Woman “ran West”—a direction in Irish literature that always stands for both rural, authentic Ireland as well as death (anybody who knows Joyce’s story The Dead will recognize this paradigm). When she collapsed, she was brought home to die in bed. We learn she has eight children (the ninth couldn’t “stay the course”), an unfaithful husband (David Bardeen, wonderfully conveying desperation, exasperation and guilt). As Scarecrow—her own insight embodied—tells her, “you martyred yourself to a mediocrity.” There is also the inevitable auntie (Tina Brock, radiating old-time religion and outrage).
The play is built on conversations, real and imaginary. Her memories are of food and of men, of “smokin’ and flirtin’ in Paris—why did I come back?”; her regrets are many. She looks in the mirror and loves the way she looks—illness has given her sharp cheekbones and “graveyard chic.”
Kirsten Quinn, surely the youngest person onstage, looks wonderfully ancient. Her face—her eyebrows!—expresses what then need not be said. Marina Carr is a contemporary female voice: Woman is not pitiable in some old-fashioned way; looking back on a life unfulfilled, she sees that she was constricted by her own cowardice and sense of duty.
We are left wih a question—perhaps the question: “When did this all turn to tragedy?”
[Irish HeritageTheatre in co-production with Plays & Players, at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place] October November 9, 2019