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A CurtainUp Review
The Suitcase Under The Bed

Strange Birth | In the Cellar of My Friend | Holiday House | The King of Spain's Daughter |

Another Teresa Deevy Evening. . .Another Teresa Deevy Reclaimed Book
The Suitcase Under the Bed completes one of the Mint Theater Company's most ambitious and welcome rescue missions of a playwright whose work deserves wider recognition. What is now known as the Teresa Deevy Project began in 2010 with a Mint production of Wife to James Whelan . It was followed by Temporal Powers in 2011 and Katie Roche in 2013. All were deftly directed by the Mint's Producing Artistic Director Jonathan Bank and, true to the company's name, were given mint productions. A book entitled Teresa Deevy Reclaimed, further supported Deevy's rightful place among Ireland's most prominent playwrights.

The current Deevy evening takes its name from a treasure trove of manuscripts packed in two suitcases under a bed in the Deevy family home in Waterford, Ireland to which Mr. Bank gained access during a trip to Ireland. As he explains in his as always informative program notes, there were other of these shorter plays he loved that he might have chosen for his Suitcase Under the Bed production. However, he had to narrow it down to four that would work within the staging and casting requirements for putting together such an evening.

Mr. Bank clearly chose wisely. The production now at the Mint's home on Theatre Row has been effectively organized. At about 15 minutes each these pieces packs in a lot of background and feelings; and, as organized, the two hours achieve a unity similar to Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout's Publitzer Prize winning novel of connected stories, .

To help Mr. Bank achieve this fluidity, a big bravo to the seven fine actors who play twenty-two characters. Another bravo to Andrea Varga for the costumes that help the actors individualize their characters and Vicky R. Davis for a set that changes locales — quite drastically so in the final play— but without too much entr'acte fuss and with the same sort of overall connectivity.

My comments on the four plays Mr. Bank selected for The Suitcase Under the Bed are in the order in which they are presented. Teresa Devy Reclaimed: Volume Two includes texts for the chosen four as well as six other one-acters.

Strange Birth (World Premiere)
Strange Birth
Aidan Redmond & Ellen Adair (Photo: Richard Termine).
The marriage proposals that figure importantly in three of these plays all reflect Deevy's awareness of the difficulties faced by women whose hopes and desires went against the mores that prevailed in the Ireland of her day. But unlike the darker aspects of proposals (and breakups) to come, the one in Strange Birth makes for a light-hearted little romantic sketch. The suitor's proposal being in the form of a hand-delivered letter is aptly amusing since he's the postman who regularly shows up at Mrs. Taylor's rooming house where Sara, the girl of his dreams, works as a servant.

Aidan Redmond and Ellen Adair skillfully inhabit the main characters: Bill, the tongue-tied postman Bill. . . and the lively Sara who is resistant to love since, according to her observations of others, it inevitably disappoints. The terrific Cynthia Mace and A.J. Shively who appear throughout, add flavor in smaller roles — Mace as Sara's employer Mrs. Taylor, and Shively as a despondent boarder. Gina Costigan has just a teensy part as another boarder, but she gets her chance to shine in the second act's Holiday House.

If Strange Birth seems an odd title, it's actually a clever sum-up for the predictably happy explanation of Sara's recognition that Bill could indeed be the "birth" of love for the postman with whom she's always exchanged pleasantries but with little thought of anything more.

In the Cellar of My Friend.
L-R: Colin Ryan, A.J. Shively & Cynthia Mace (Photo: Richard Termine).
To adapt the rooming house set of Strange Birth for the residence of Barrister Thomas Keene (Colin Ryan), Sarah Nicole Deaver steps in front of the curtain to sing "A Spiritual Canticle" by St. John of the Cross. This takes just a few minutes and smoothly lets her move into the new set and the play in which she will now be a key player.

Unlike Sara of Strange Birth, Deaver's Belle loves young Barney Keene (another nice turn for Shively), not his father. While Barney apparently shared her feelings, it's soon evident that there's not going to be a happy ending here — not unless you think accepting his father's proposal can turn into a "strange birth" of another love.

There's a surprising reveal about Barney to explain why the older Keene feels his proposal isn't hopeless even though he knows Belle loves his son. The effect of that reveal underscores Deevy's understanding of the limited choices open to women like Belle. According to Christopher Morath's introductory essay in the new Teresa Deevy Reclaimed book, it also turns that religious Entre'acte song a meaningful clue to Deevy's regular use of religious ideas and as a dramatic device to help characters find words for their revelations.

Cynthia Mace once again adds to the pleasures of this smartly constructed playlet as Keene's sister Patricia. And, while Aidan Redmond has a bit part here, he'll return in bigger and interestingly diverse roles after the intermission.

Holiday House (World Premiere).
holiday house
L-R: Colin Ryan, Gina Costigan, Ellen Adair, Sarah Nicole Deaver & Aidan Redmond (Photo: Richard Termine).
Dramas about holiday get togethers at which family tensions and resentments bubble to the surface have long been fodder for stage, screen and short story writers. In Holiday House, which brings on the whole ensemble in an especially lovely array of costumes, the occasion is an annual summer vacation at a big seaside house rented by the Mackey family's matriarch (another perfect role for Cynthia Mace).

This summer both brothers Derek (Colin Ryan) and his wife Jil (Gina Costigan) and Neil (Aiden Redmond) and his wife Doris (Ellen Adair) are expected — a tricky situation since Derek and Jil were once engaged. With so little time to show how Mackey brothers or their wives will handle their time together, it's up to unmarried daughter Hetty (Sarah Nicole Deaver) to not only deal with the luggage still sitting around the entry hall, but to set us in on the potentially problematic holiday — which Deaver does hilariously. She gets a strong assist from Tommy Moore (A. J. Shively) the genial family friend and cousin of her sister-in-law Doris, who's dropped in to help carry things upstairs.

It's from Tommy that the easily discombobulated Hetty learns that Doris never really wanted to break up with Derek. Tommy assures her that "Most people have a crack in their hearts" but that Doris "has pluck" won't go and hang herself over the crack in hers. But as it turns out, the crack in Doris's heart is still wide open. What's more, Jil is insecure about this vacation with her husband's first love.

And so, the simmering jealousies and resentments will indeed surface. But don't expect a major dramatic blow-up. But, though the tempest in this tea pot won't come to a full boil, Deevy's script has the out of joint feelings simmering subtly and with some very sharp and character defining dialogue — or example, the pragmatic Derek callously laughing off Hetty's concern about Jil and Doris not having much in common with "They have me!"

Perhaps if Dublin's Abbey Theater had fulfilled its original contract to stage Holiday House, it would have been expanded to cover the rest of that Mackey family holiday. Instead, the Abbey's rejection led Deevy into a new genre, the radio play, which she did extremely well despite the fact that she was deaf and thus unable to experience fully.

The King of Spain's Daughter.

A. J. Shively and Cynthia Mace (Photo: Richard Termine).
The final play on this tastefully presented 4-course menu takes its title from a nursery rhyme called "I had a little nut tree" ("The King of Spain's daughter came to visit me,/And all for the sake/ Of my little nut tree") to explore a young woman's vision of a romantic life to retain a sense of autonomy even as she is forced to choose between a slave-like factory job or a loveless marriage.

The casting of the man forcing these tough choices on the free-spirited Annie Kinsella (Sarah Nicole Deaver in her most moving role) nicely bookends the evening. Aiden Redmond, the postman who made marriage more a possibility of joy in the first play, is now Peter Kinsella, Annie's abusive and dictatorial father. He also get to handle the pause between acts scenery changes. He does so by reciting a poem with a stanza referencing the title and indicating that once romantic once beat beneath this man's grim exterior.

Both Peter and Annie's unwanted suitor Jim Harris (the same A J Shively who Belle of In the Cellar of My Friend desperately wanted to marry) are now laborers. The setting is a dreary patch of land where the men work — a sign at the side announcing that the road is closed is a potent visual metaphor for a town where lives are as restricted as access to that road. Still, different as this setting is from the previous ones, it too looks out on a blossoming, greener and brighter world.

In another bit of turn-around casting, Cynthia Mace is Mrs. Mann, the kind of woman who's too entrenched in the existing social system to support the struggle for female independence of women like Annie. To her Annie's seeing a wedding taking place in the town as a wonderful romantic beginning is just a marker to occasionally remember and make the thirty unfulfilling years to follow more bearable.

Fortunately, Teresa Deevy managed to move beyond that restrictive wall and create a fine body of work despite the limitations of the era she lived in and her physical disability.

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The Suitcase Under The Bed
Four Short Plays by Teresa Deevy: Strange Birth,In the Cellar of My Friend, Holiday House,The King of Spain's Daughter
Directed by Jonathan Bank
Cast (characters listed in order of play they first appear in) appearance Ellen Adair(Sara, Doris), Gina Costigan (Mrs. Sims, Jil), Sarah Nicole Deaver (Belle, Hetty, Anne), Cynthia Mace (Mrs. Taylor, Patricia -Aunt Patty-Keane,Mrs. Marks, Mater), Aidan Redmond (Bill, Martin, Neil, Peter), Colin Ryan (Thomas, Derek, Roddy Mann), A.J. Shively (Mr. Bassett, Barney, Charlie Moore,Jim Harris)
Sets: Vicki R. Davis
Costumes: Andrea Varga
Lights: Zach Blane
Sound: Jane Shaw
Props: Joshua Yocom
Dialects & Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Stage Manager: Heather Arnson
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, 1 intermission
Mint Theater at the Beckett Theater 410 West 42nd Street 212-239-6200
From 7/21/17; opening 8/24/17; closing 9/30/17.
Tuesday to Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday & Sunday 2:00pm, Wednesday 8/23, 9/6, 9/20, 9/27 2:00 pm

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