Rage against the machine

Sons of Molly Maguire

Written by John Kearns
Directed by Candace O'Neil Cihocki
Boann Books and Media LLC
Midtown International Theater Festival
WorkShop Theater Mainstage, 312 W. 36th St., 4th Floor
Equity showcase (closed August 4, 2007)
Review by Byrne Harrison

The Irish are known for being great storytellers. It's no surprise then that John Kearns’ latest play, The Sons of Molly Maguire, has the feel of a story handed down from one generation to the next. Indeed, there are several scenes that reinforce that notion - a group of Irish mummers telling a housewife the story of the original Molly Maguire, an Irish mother forced from her house by her English landlords, or a modern tour guide (Dani Cervone) relating to bored tourists the story of the American Sons of Molly Maguire, Pennsylvanian miners who rose up against the mine owners who refused to ameliorate their horrible working conditions and low wages – by connecting the Irish peasants to the Irish American laborers and to their progeny of today.

Most of Kearns' story focuses on the Sons of Molly Maguires of 19th century Pennsylvania. In particular, on the rise of Jack Kilbride (Michael Basile), a firebrand bent on changing the status quo through any means necessary and no matter the cost, and the decline of his father (J. Dolan Byrnes), a man who tries to bring change through unions and compromise. As Jack organizes the Molly Maguires into a secret society bent on violence and intimidation, his father's ways are forgotten. After being betrayed from within by an Irish Pinkerton detective (Brendan Ryan), the Mollies are crushed by the powerful mine owners and hanged.

The story of the American Molly Maguires is fascinating. As a piece of theatre however, Kearns play relies too much on storytelling. Most of the important incidents in the play, an attack on the Irish by the Welsh miners and the subsequent retribution, the murders of mine bosses, the arrest of the Mollies, and the covert spying and later flight of James McGinty, the Pinkerton mole, are all related by witnesses to the action at the local bar. The scenes that are shown - McGinty's courting of the lovely Alice Kerrigan (Emily Moment) in order to infiltrate the Mollies, a priest hectoring of a condemned man, the confrontations between the elder and younger Kilbrides - are excellent, both in terms of writing and direction, though more would be better. The directing is especially good throughout the play. Director Candace O'Neil Cihocki has an eye for stage pictures and the rhythm of Kearns' language. The production is always visually interesting and pleasant to the ear. The Sons of Molly Maguire contains some wonderfully theatrical moments, as well, utilizing chants and dance to draw the audience into the Mollies' fight.

The cast, led by standout actors Basile and Byrnes, is excellent. Among the more notable performances are Susan McBrien as Mrs. Kilbride; Moment, especially during her courtship scene with Brendan Ryan; and Joe Sevier as the condemned man being made to confess on the scaffold by a priest (Dain A. Geist).

The Sons of Molly Maguire offers both a beautifully presented story and a history lesson full of intrigue and passion. With a touch more action, and even more of director Candace O'Neil Cihocki's deftly handled theatricality, it could become a sublime evening of entertainment and art.

(The Sons of Molly Maguire also featured Mary Egan, Julia Morrissey, Richard Price, Michael Whitney and Gary Troy)


Box Score:


Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2007 Byrne Harrison


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