Aysan Celik in Spinning the Times
(© Richard Termine)
Aysan Celik in Spinning the Times
(© Richard Termine)
The prospect of an evening of one-act plays generally conjures grim images of high school play festivals. Happily, Spinning the Times, an evening of five monologues by Irish female playwrights, being presented at 59E59 as part of the Origin Theatre's 1st Irish 2009 festival, offers mature work that is sensitive, touching, and lyrical, all aided by M. Burke Walter's fine direction.

The pieces are linked by their structure; characters caught up in world events -- the stories are inspired by actual headlines -- and their attempts to make sense of their lives in a world that can be hostile, unpredictable, and daunting. What saves these works from being maudlin or self-indulgent are the largely unique characters and the fine writing by each playwright.

The evening opens with The Lemon Tree, by Rosemary Jenkins, in which Kenny (Jerzy Gwiazdowski), a troubled Protestant teen in a Catholic neighborhood is struggling to grow. The lack of employment and the violence around him create a fairly hopeless situation. Gwiazadowski plays the conflicts beautifully, balancing bravado and fear and in the end being swept inevitably into the violence, a casualty of economics and abandonment.

The Luthier, by Lucy Caldwell, takes us to Palestine where Dawood (Ethan Hova) fixes violins. "Except for fire, there is no damage which cannot be repaired," he says. While he may be able one day to save violins, Dawood cannot restore the damage the persistent bombings have wreaked on his friends and family. It is a portrait of senseless violence and innocence destroyed, and Hova's understated performance is heartfelt and sweet, even in the face of horrific destruction.

Miracle Conway, by Geraldine Aron, takes us into the mind of a woman named Miracle (Rosemary Fine) who goes to work for a famous songwriter and suffers delusions that turn violent. Fine is very funny indeed and takes the familiar story of an adoring fan who turns psycho into some very comedic places. Her performance is a symphony of idiosyncrasies that make Miracle's derangement consistently appealing.

Rosalind Haslett's Gin in a Teacup is about Romayne (Aysan Celik) who is waiting at a bar for her sister. An Iranian woman, she has flouted all her cultural conventions, which enrages her sister. She dresses in the fashions of the 1930s and sells them online and recalls life with her mother who is now dying and the family struggles. It is a portrait of an individual who has pulled away from her traditions, but still lonely and lost but somehow surviving, and Celik plays it with quiet subtlety. It is both economical and powerfully moving.

The final -- and weakest -- piece, Belinda McKeon's Fugue tells the story of David (Mark Byrne) who has fled Ireland to protect his younger brother from revenge against David for his acts of violence and lands in Queens. When his apartment is burned out, he is left with no passport, no visa and no home. While McKeon never develops the story sufficiently, Byrne is a strong and appealing actor who compellingly conveys the sense of utter loss and angry hopelessness of having everything stripped away.