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Katie Roche

" I was looking for something great to do-sure now I have it."— Katie
Katie Roche
Parick Fritzgerald and Wrenn Schmidt
The discovery, or as I should say, the re-discovery of Irish playwright Teresa Deevy (1894 - 1963) by the Mint Theater continues to offer a real treat to its regular subscribers as well as to all adventurous theatergoers previously unfamiliar with her fine and, indeed, dandy contributions to dramatic literature. The current production of Katie Roche is the final of three plays of a programmed series that has focused on Deevy who was once proclaimed by another Irish dramatist, Lennox Robinson, as "the most important dramatist writing (at the time) for Irish theater."

As presented by this admirable theater, under the deft direction of Jonathan Banks, Katie Roche may not have the dramatic heft of either of the previously presented Wife to James Whelan (2010) or Temporal Powers (2011), but it is despite its featherweight story nonetheless quietly disarming. It is substantially strengthened by Deevy's gift for creating arresting, slightly eccentric characters and by a company of actors fresh with the skills and cadences of the dialect and deportment.

Katie Roche mostly provides a peek into the inherent provincialism of Lower Ballycar, Ireland in 1936 and how its prevailing manners and mores affect the lives and the relationships within a family. The story dotes heavily on the capricious desires and whimsical nature of its title character. As charmingly played with a courageously exasperating pretense of purpose by Wrenn Schmidt, Katie Roche can easily be seen from the start as the one with whom the other characters have to reckon. Almost twenty years old, Katie has been since her birth something akin to a family retainer. Born out of wedlock to a local woman now deceased, she was given a home and raised as a housekeeper and companion to Amelia Gregg (Margaret Daly), a middle-aged spinster.

The basic situation begins to bubble when Amelia's slightly older brother Stanislaus (Patrick Fitzgerald), an architect who mainly works and lives and Dublin, takes more than a fancy to grown-up Katie and surprises her as well as his sister with his proposal of marriage. But Katie's young and foolish heart belongs to Michael McGuire (Jon Fletcher), a nice enough lad who doesn't mind dallying with the pretty and flirtatious Katie, but sees no future for them in the light of his family's objections.

There is some amusement in seeing Katie's many changes in mind and heart, particularly as she decides that she might really prefer being a wife than a nun. The age difference between her and Stan is only a momentary issue, as is his being a somewhat stuffy, stiff-necked autocrat. Katie's marriage and a re-defined sense of security do not, as you may suspect, make her a sensible, reasonable or even caring wife. Her almost ludicrous leap into religiosity, the last phase of her self-indulging caprices, encourages laughter.

While the docile, accommodating Amelia takes all of Katie's shenanigans with a grain of salt, her disapproving and interfering married older sister Margaret (Fiana Toibin) wouldn't mind seeing the marriage dissolved, especially in the light of a presumed indiscretion. There's also a secret being kept and about to be revealed by Reuben (Jamie Jackson), a mysterious spiritual advisor about town who wanders about visiting those in need?

The play moves rather slowly and deliberately through three acts with all the action taking place within the cozily furnished main room of the cottage (beautifully designed by Vicki R. Davis). The cottage's front door is the frequent passage for eight characters over a period of one year. While I was amused to see just how the headstrong Katie will eventually fare in the sheer face of her often wrong-minded fancies, I was also somewhat intrigued by the glimmer of passion and the purposefulness of his patience that would escape on occasion from Fitzgerald's otherwise rigid performance as Stan.

Daly gives a graceful account of Amelia who cow-tows to brother's every wish. There's a nice scene well played by John O'Creagh as Frank Lawlor, a prospective suitor who comes-a-calling for the startled Amelia. There are smatterings of what is at stake but there is also no real sense of urgency about them. And none of them have those whimsical flights of abstracted lyricism that often embellish, indeed, distinguish the folksy Irish plays to which we have become accustomed. Nevertheless, the voice of Deevy is distinctive, and not to be taken as lightly as the characters she has given life to in this otherwise rather endearing trifle.

Katie Roche by Teresa Deevy
Directed by Jonathan Bank
Cast: Parick Fritzgerald (Stanislaus Gregg), Wrenn Schmidt (Katie Roche), Margaret Daly(Amelia Gregg), Jon Fletcher (Michal Maguire), David Friedlander (Jo Mahony), Jamie Jackson (Reuben), John O'Creagh (Frank Lawlor), Fiana Toibin (Margaret Drybone)
Set design by Vicki R. Davis
Costume design by Martha Hally
Lighting design by Nicole Pearce
Sound design by Jane Shaw
Prop design by Joshua Yocum
Dialects and Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Stage Manager: Allison Deutsch
Running Time 2 1/2 hours, including 2 10-minute intermissions
Mint Theater 311 West 43rd Street
From 1/26/13; opening 2/25/13; closing 3/31/13.
Tuesday through Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM.
Tickets, $55.
Reviewed by Simon saltzman at 2/20 press preview
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