A CurtainUp Review
Poor Michael Donovan. . .a pity but you were different. What was on me that I ever took up with you? I am lookin for that answer day an night. What was on the two of us seein you never had sense? -- Min
A year ago I shared my enthusiasm for a play that you in all probability had never heard of – Wife to James Whelan by a playwright with whom you also were not familiar – Teresa Deevy (1894 – 1963.) That play was discovered and produced by the Mint Theater whose artistic director Jonathan Bank was duly credited and praised for drawing our attention to this playwright who was once proclaimed by another Irish dramatist, Lennox Robinson, as “the most important dramatist writing (at the time) for Irish theater.” It is time to cheer again for the Mint Theater where Deevy’s 1932 play Temporal Powers is getting an exemplary production, under Bank’s fine direction.
Aidan Redmond, Rosie Benton
(Photo: Richard Termine)
Finding and producing worthy but forgotten plays is a commendable mission. It is even more commendable, however, that the Mint’s productions, although modest by Broadway standards, are first-rate and make going to see them almost obligatory for anyone interested in the lost treasures of dramatic literature.
The winner of the First Prize in the new play competition held by Dublin’s Abbey Theater in 1932, Temporal Powers was one of her six plays that would be presented by the Abbey Theater during the 1930s. It was revived once by the Abbey in 1937, but then drifted into obscurity as did Deevy when she suddenly fell out of favor with that theater’s new artistic leadership.
Although the text was eventually published, Temporal Powers has not received a fully staged production until now. It is a passionate and earthy play that resonates with the kind of rich rural language that immediately defines its arresting and amusing characters. Deevy has also indelibly embedded within her text the sad reality of its time and place, the disparity between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots.
The Donovans, Michael (Aiden Redmond) and Min (Rosie Benton,) are in their 30s and barely surviving in their hard-scrabble existence as field workers when they are evicted from their home. They have taken shelter within a crumbling ruin on the outskirts of town. Although we can see that they love each, their relationship and their values are suddenly put to the test when Michael discovers a stash of money lodged behind a stone in a wall. This could mean the end of their poverty if only they could agree on whether to spend it. “We have no claim on it,” says Michael as Min then tries to make him believe that it is the “Providence of God looking down on his poor children.”
Min has no qualms about what they should do as she immediately begins to consider the prospects of a brighter future. Michael feels he must first consult with Father O’Brien (Robertson Carricart), the local priest Weary of being married to a man who seems content to live in poverty and willing to accept his lot in life as one ordained by God, Min finds her options suddenly narrowed further when their friend Moses Barron (Eli James) not only arrives with a few supplies and a bit of food, but also with news that the local post-office has been robbed.
The plot thickens as does the dense dialect of the characters when news of the robbery becomes the talk of the town. An event such as this is bound to bring together a gathering in the ruins (evocatively designed by Vicki Davis) of friends and neighbors who lose no time in posing their theories - especially since the return to town of friend Maggie Cooney’s (Bairbre Dowling) ne’er-do-well husband Ned (Con Horgan) who has just finished serving time in prison.
In Benton’s stunning performance we can see the subtle shift in Min’s personality after she catches Ned red-handed attempting to retrieve the cash that is no longer in the hiding place. Benton, who also appeared in Wife to James Whelan is quite mesmerizing as she recklessly conspires with Ned to retrieve the money from Michael while he is asleep. But are we to believe that the stubborn and stolid Michael may not have a plan of his own, one that may or may not include Min, or succeed without the unwitting help of his friend Jim Slattery (Paul Carlin) And just how far will the pretty and perky Lizzie Brennan (Wrenn Schmidt) go, besides following Moses all over town, to get enough money to persuade the reluctant Moses to marry her?
There is plenty of Irish styled meddling by the characters who gather to make matters worse by the hour - especially from Moses’s domineering, gossip-fueled mother Daisy (Fiana Toibin) who also has her hands full keeping Lizzie away from her mollycoddled son. What makes Deevy’s play involving is seeing how each character is unwittingly drawn into a situation that spirals out of control. We may ultimately be unprepared for the way that Min and Michael resolve their conflicts, but it is a resolve that deepens our understanding and our compassion for them.
As this is a play about the Irish on their own turf in 1923 and written by a playwright with an acute ear (this despite Deevy being deaf since childhood) for the dense Irish-English spoken, it is also not without a crafty sprinkling of humor. Bank is fortunate to have a cast of performers who know how to inhabit Deevy’s people and to deliver her crisply textured text. Redmond is standout as the devout Michael whose temper isn’t always tempered enough as he refuses to compromise his moral posture for Min.
Although it is hard to imagine what marriage will be like for the impetuous Lizzie and the grievously shy Moses, both Schmidt and James certainly give us the impression that simply getting away from Moses’s smothering mother could be the cure. Temporal Powers is certainly a cure for those in search of a good yarn.
By Teresa Deevy|
Directed by Jonathan Bank
Cast: Aiden Redmond (Michael Donovan), Rosie Benton (Min Donovan), Eli James (Moses Barron), Wrenn Schmidt (Lizzie Brennan), Fiana Toibin (Daisy Barron), Con Horgan (Ned Cooney), Bairbre Dowling (Maggie Cooney), Paul Carlin (Jim Slattery), Robertson Carricart (Father O’Brien).
Set Design: Vick R. Davis
Costume Design: Andrea Varga
Lighting Design: Jeff Nellis
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including two intermissions
Mint Theater, Third floor of 311 West 43rd Street.
(212) 315 – 0231
Tickets ($55.00) A limited number of seats for every performance at half-price ($27.50).
Performances: Tuesday through Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM.
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/24/11
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