There were two lovely, lyrical moments in Red Roses for Me. In the penultimate scene, a lamplighter (Ronnie Seneci) solemnly raised a pole to each of the three lighting instruments that hung over the stage. As he touched each one, it slowly faded up in a quietly beautiful prelude to the final scene of mourning scene. And in the closing image of the play, the sacristan walked out of the church, whistling softly, as the lights dim to reveal the softly lit stained-glass window that illuminated the deceased protagonist's final resting place. But these subtly powerful moments were too little, too late, and couldn't offset the otherwise unrelenting melodramatic portrayals by the Impact Theatre ensemble. They shook with rage, clenched their jaws, screwed up their foreheads, and, most of all, yelled at each other in a variety of impenetrable Irish accents.
Jack Tynan played Ayamonn Breydon, an unlikable young worker who strutted around preening and mouthing off about Shakespeare and art and strained his vocal cords emoting in spite of the tiny space. His girlfriend Sheila Mooneen (Cathleen Daneuhauer) hopes that he will break ranks with the strike on which the play is centered, thus insuring his future as a foreman. His fellow workers and students, including the pretentious scholar Mullcanny (Tom Gordon) and the more down-to-earth Rory (James Yaker) see him as their great hope. And his poor old mother (Ann Saxman) and the Protestant minister, the Reverend Clinton (Ron Pogue) seem to just want to keep him safe.
More incomprehensible was a band of five men and women, who were either homeless beggars or seemingly retarded religious fanatics -- it was difficult to tell as they ranted in prophetic gibberish in the opening scene about a statue of the Virgin, and in their second appearance seemed more like beggar women and drunk men. (Shannon King, Karen M. Sweeney, Meg Araneo, Ronnie Seneci, and Andrew Pollner played this ragtag band.)
O'Casey's language felt at times like a parody of the Shakespeare plays that Ayamonn is reading at the beginning. Refusing to let an image or metaphor well enough alone, O'Casey gives the image, multiplies it, beats it into the ground with a stick, and then keeps going with it, giving the actors some of the most overwrought and overwritten dialogue possible. It was thus not entirely their fault if they never seemed to be speaking, but rather declaiming their text.
Only Pogue's Reverend Clinton, for some reason, escaped from this problem. Never raising his voice, he seemed to be genuinely struggling with his position rather than speechifying about it. Pogue also managed to keep a straight face while two maniacal parishioners (Tom Gordon and Robin Wolff) bounced up and down like jumping beans on his cross while ranting about popery, in what felt more like a bad comedy sketch than the serious desecration that was intended.
Musical interludes provided entertaining diversions from the main
plot, showcasing the strong vocal talents of, in particular, Kent
Harris (as a shy opera singer) and John Marnell (as
an amiable old neighbor).
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Copyright 1997 Sarah Stevenson