Janie Brookshire and Shawn Fagan in
Wife to James Whelan
(© Carol Rosegg)
Janie Brookshire and Shawn Fagan in
Wife to James Whelan
(© Carol Rosegg)
In his tireless treasure hunt for forgotten plays, Mint Theater artistic director Jonathan Bank spent part of last year rummaging through two valises in Waterford, Ireland and returned with several recovered items by Teresa Deevy, who had a run of hits at Dublin's revered Abbey Theater in the 1930s but was then unceremoniously discarded as stale goods by new management. With loving ferocity, Bank has now directed Deevy's Wife to James Whelan, and the engrossing work is a love story full of weirdly flaunted pride and spite.

Set forth in three acts, the tale of star-crossed lovers James Whelan (Shawn Fagan) and Nan Bowers (Janie Brookshire) begins when the pair are in their early 20s and drawn passionately to each other, but nevertheless refuse to acknowledge their devotion out of a refusal to reveal individual vulnerabilities.

Instead, as several friends circulate around them -- thoughtful Kate Moran (Rosie Benton), friendly Tom Carey (Aidan Redmond), jealous Bill McGafferty (Jeremy S. Holm), and fresh-faced newcomer Jack McClinsey (Thomas Matthew Kelley) -- James insists he must leave town to pursue promising work in Dublin. Meanwhile, Nan, believing she's being abandoned, mocks him for aspiring to better himself and thereby position himself as superior to her and their surroundings.

Seven years later, when act two begins, James is running a successful motor-services company with plans to expand even further when Nan -- now the widowed mother of a four-year-old -- arrives seeking work. James is willing to oblige, until he catches her stealing a five-pound note he'd left on his desk. Despite the pleading of still-devoted Kate, Tom, and young assistant Apollo Moran (Jon Fletcher), James inflexibly presses charges.

Six weeks later, after Nan has been released from her brief prison sentence, she once again comes to James to seek employment. Whether James finally gives in -- and continues taking up with flirtatious and pouty Nora (Liv Rooth) -- won't be revealed here.

What will be applauded, however, are Deevy's unmissable psychological insights. A lifelong spinster -- who became deaf at the age of 20 from the complications of Meniere's disease -- Deevey obviously had the eye and ear for the damage immature foolishness can cause the young.

The entire company is also to be applauded. Most notable are Fagan -- often facing downstage with arms crossed on his chest and feet immovably planted -- who is as tough as a bantam boxer, yet with care often darting from his eyes, and Brookshire, whose Nan is fiery at first and then downtrodden but also unmovable in just the right degree.