It was a rocky voyage for this patchy drama. But the author didn't need to drag in the Great Depression to crush these characters. Practically every one of them was a drunk, a fallen woman, an unemployable clod, a crooked politician, dead, or a Catholic combination of the above.
The first few moments of the play spotlighted the specter of the deceased Irish immigrant mother (Linda Sheridan) complaining about an "unrelieved ache," suddenly flashing back to when she struck the match that blew her to kingdom come. Ten more scenes of inert drama punctuated by flash explosions followed.
The director made efficient, if not ground-breaking, use of the tiny space available; but the long scenes often seemed awkwardly set up.
Much of the acting was damn good, though a tad self-indulgent as actors took their time wringing tears from sense memories. There were poignantly affectionate interactions between the repressed Catholic "girls": the very pretty Rhonda Christou, whose lithe body was especially expressive in costumes by Karen Flood; and the impressive Jennifer Hodges.
Now and then the dour Brian Connors, as the father, would erupt in monstrous behavior toward his children. More often he would grievously lack the energy of G. W. Reed, who played one of his cronies-or, for that matter, Gerrianne Raphael, the housekeeper-either one of whom could have supplied the crucial Irish charm needed for the important role.
The sound by Douglas Stewart was fine; but lights by Annmarie Duggan didn't quite make art out of shadows. The unit set by Rosana Rosa was minimal and unpretentious. Not so the play, which became unbearable after lines like "a greedy gaggle of Tammany leeches"; and constant refrains of "Pennies from Heaven" tattooed a weak symbolism on the proceedings.
Despite this pretentious Irish stew, the play got suddenly exciting toward the end of the first act as Ms. Christou and Bill Tobes launched a touching, gentle, though doomed, romance.
"I'm not much at all, but it's as much as any man can offer," Mr. Tobes confessed, playing with his hat and convincing Irish lilt. The scene got well-deserved applause.
Act II piled on the problems, such as two abortions ("We're not talking about yanking a yo-yo!"), death, wife-beating, excommunication, and revealed family secrets best kept hidden as the drama fell down on the whiskey- religion- and suds-soaked sod, reaching valiantly but fruitlessly for the haunting poetry of any O'Dramatist.
But the play's exposition was relentless as characters yelled at one another, then went back to telling stories.
"I was just back from Cuba," the father stupefyingly began another story in the middle of a violent argument that caused his daughter to leave him forever and damn him to hell.
Her train left for Chicago at 4:45 PM, Track 32, Penn Station. Pray she stayed away from Cuba.
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Copyright 1997 Marshall Yaeger