Although James Joyce was not well-known as a playwright, his play Exiles is an extremely provocative work. It is the story of Richard Rowan, a writer who has spent eight years in Rome, having left Ireland after taking up with a girl "not his equal." He has returned to Ireland after marrying that girl, fathering a son, and publishing a book. Richard, however, is a wounded man. He is no longer in love with his wife, Bertha, and pines for Beatrice Justice, a music teacher whom he loved years before, whom he now employs to teach his son the piano. Even worse, his friend Robert Hand comes back into Richard's life in order to take his wife from him.
Clearly, this is intricate and interesting material. Realistic in style, naturalistic in philosophy, Exiles is a dark, brooding work. Asking as many questions as it answers, the play is an intense examination of human desires and sexuality. Unfortunately, the production by the Daedalus Theatre Company did not live up to the quality of the writing.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience saw the actors already on stage, frozen in place, as dissonant music played over the loudspeakers. Once the production began, the play was performed at what seemed half-speed. The actors seemed cold and distant, both from each other and the audience. After they left the stage (and prior to their entrances), they walked about the theatre in a nearly catatonic state. While this was all interesting to look at, it did not move the play forward nor heighten the piece's impact. Although it was clear that director Richard Nash-Siedlecki had a grand concept for the work, it was unfortunately flawed. There was also an aural problem with this production; specifically, the sound of the actors' voices. While Richard Eoin (Richard) spoke with a light Irish accent, the three other actors (Megan Johnson, John Postley, and Mariana Newhard), spoke with bland American accents that in no way added to Joyce's passionate dialogue. While it is all well and good not to use phony Irish accents, a vocal styling or two wouldn't have hurt here.
On the positive side, this production was beautiful to look at. The simple yet colorful set by Severn Clay liberated the work from being cluttered by too much furniture. Clay's lighting design was equally exquisite. The costumes by Robin 1. Shane were also simple, yet quite effective.
Producing Exiles is a very ambitious task, and the Daedalus Theatre Company should be applauded for their efforts. However, while they had the visual aspects down, a more determined sense of pacing would have helped a powerfully written work appear much more powerful on stage.
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Copyright 1998 John Attanas