October, 2016

The Plough and the Stars contemporized

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Dublin’s renowned Abbey Theatre has brought a modernized production of Sean O’Casey’s four act drama The Plough and the Stars to the American Repertory Theatre. In keeping with today’s conventions, it is played as four scenes with one intermission. First performed in 1926, ten years after the Easter Uprising when outnumbered Irish nationalists attempted to drive out the British, the play deals with the horrors and uselessness of rebellion by showing its effects upon the working poor.

Seven of The Plough and the Stars’ fourteen characters are tenants of a rundown tenement where the play begins and ends. Nora (Kate Stanley Brennan) and Jack Clitheroe (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) are a young married couple whose financial circumstances are better than their neighbors because they are able to rent out a room in their flat to Jack’s communist cousin the Young Covey (Ciará O’Brian), and Peter Flynn (James Hayes), Nora’s uncle. Nora, in particular, has middle-class ambitions, as seen by her fancy hat and demeanor. Mrs. Gogan (Janet Moran), the second floor tenant is a gossipy widowed charwoman with a young tubercular daughter and baby. She is jealous of Nora’s attractiveness and comfortable life. Unlike the other women, Nora does not work. Mollser (Rachel Gleason), the sickly girl on the verge of death, is symbolic of society’s neglect of the impoverished. Bessie Burgess (Hilda Fay) is the third-floor neighbor, a tough Protestant Unionist and fruit vendor, often at odds with Mrs. Gogan. As the play draws towards its end, we see Bessie’s compassion.

Scene two takes place in a pub where the audience is introduced to the bartender (Ger Kelly) and the prostitute Rosie Redmond (Nyree Yergainharsian). Despite Rosie’s good looks and flirtatious manner, she has no customers. Most of the neighborhood men have gone to a meeting of the Irish Citizen Army. When the Covey enters, she tries to seduce him, but he runs off in fear. In 1926 Dublin, this scene was a shocker. After the meeting, the men enter the pub. Rosie finds a client in Fluther (David Ganly), a neighborhood carpenter, and they leave together. Jack forsakes his pregnant wife for the independence of Ireland. As he tells his soldier buddies, “Ireland is greater than a wife.” (more…)

Spring Awakening: The Musical – Effective presentation of the subject matter

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Modella Media

Photo: Modella Media

Review of Spring Awakening: The Musical
Spring Awakening: The Musical
Book and lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Much of the subject matter of Spring Awakening — both the original play and the musical — make Philip Roth’s once-controversial novel Portnoy’s Complaint seem comic-book light.

Playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening) in 1891, attacking German bourgeois society for its repressive attitude, particularly towards young people. The play — originally sub-titled A Children’s Tragedy — was considered scandalous because of its explicit sexual content and was banned on publication. Another 15 years passed before it appeared on stage in Berlin.

The content makes it an even more unlikely subject for a musical — even a rock musical — than Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. However, both were Tony Award winners, Sweeney Todd in 1979 and Spring Awakening in 2006. The musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, also won Drama Desk and Olivier awards.

Yet, even in the sexually liberated west in 2016, the content remains controversial. The portrait of the uncomfortable transition from adolescence to adulthood offers simulated heterosexual intercourse/sexual assault, suggested male masturbation, wet dreams, a little sado-masochism, a short homosexual love scene, a back-street abortion and references to sexual and physical abuse and abandonment. All this is capped off by the deaths of two of the principals, one by suicide and the other because of a botched abortion. (more…)

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