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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Year of the Hiker
The year is 1960 and the place is a farm in County Cork. Freda (Josie DiVincenzo) has always kept house for her sister Kate (Rebecca Wackler) and helped raise her three children, Joe (Shawn Savage), Simey (Zack Gold) and Mary (Amanda Deibert). All the family except Freda go to the church for Mary's wedding to a doctor, Willie (Robin Leabman). Hearing a noise in the kitchen, to her horror, Freda discovers her long-absent brother-in-law, The Hiker (Barry Lynch). He's come home to die but his family can't let him go gently into a good night.
Sometimes The Hiker says wandering is in his soul, the witching call from over the hills and far away. To Freda he says he left because she came between him and Kate. ("Holy people like you should be kept 1000 miles away from love!" ) Although he speaks of how much he missed his wife and oldest son, The Hiker could never find a way to shake the dust of the road from his feet.
To the Irish, he segued from amazement and a resentful admiration into rural myth. His neighbors told time by the Year of the Hiker. This was not necessarily a good thing. Joe loses his girlfriend when she finds out he's the Hiker's son. The weight of public opinion in this small Irish town lies heavy on these people.
Keane honed his ear for dialogue as a village pub-keeper. His intuitive sense of character was informed by the stories he heard over the bar.
The superb Barry Lynch embodies the simplicity and mystery of The Hiker. Shawn Savage grows into the role of Joe, a tragic figure who became a man at seven when his father left. He plays Joe with matter-of-fact realism until the final heartbroken confrontation with The Hiker. Zack Gold plays the ends of Simey, the high-spirited second son who surprises his family by qualifying for a veterinary surgeon and whose glib charm cloaks a monumental selfishness. Rebecca Wackler is the gentle Kate, always intimidated by stronger personalities. Josie DiVincenzo makes a spiky Freda whose bristling energy adds a needed astringent note.
Director Sean Branney never lets the cast go over the top but finds the nuances of rage, repression and yearning so carefully buried for decades. Katherine Trottier designed a lived-in Irish kitchen and Jessica Dalager created the costumes, whose highlight was a wedding gown made of the famous Irish lace.