Director Jonathan Bank is the Nicholas Cage of the theater: always looking for lost treasure. He's had great success in that literary scavenger hunt with his Mint Theater Company, which has produced a slew of forgotten and previously unproduced gems from a bygone era. Last season, it mounted the world premiere of Miles Malleson's Yours Unfaithfully, a particularly enthralling play about consensual non-monogamy that was written in 1933. The Mint is kicking off this season with The Suitcase Under the Bed, four one-act plays of varying quality by Teresa Deevy.
Deevy had six of her plays produced by Ireland's Abbey Theatre in the 1930s, but she wrote a lot more, especially for the radio (a remarkable fact considering she was completely deaf from the age of 20). The title refers to the place Bank found the plays, in two suitcases stuffed under a bed in Deevy's family home. While Bank didn't strike gold for the Mint with this particular discovery, there are some definite moments of luster.
Bank hatches the evening with Strange Birth, a brief valentine of a one-act in which a romantic grand gesture disguises itself as everyday business. The second play, In the Cellar of My Friend, hinges on an ultra-contrived misunderstanding between two ex-lovers that goes on entirely too long to be plausible or amusing. These first two pieces are charming, sentimental, and just a little bit boring in that way mediocre Irish plays tend to be. Heading into the intermission, we begin to suspect that the story around Deevy's lost work is a lot more interesting than the actual plays.
But then the third play of the evening disabuses us of that notion. Never before produced or published, Holiday House sparkles with wit and intrigue. It tells the story of siblings Derek (Colin Ryan), Hetty (Sarah Nicole Deaver), and Neil (Aidan Redmond) partaking in an uncomfortable August holiday with "The Mater" (Cynthia Mace expertly embodying an unassumingly grand Irish matriarch). Why uncomfortable? Before she married Neil, Doris (Ellen Adair) was engaged to Derek, who is now married to Jil (Gina Costigan). Amid tea-sipping gentility, the two women nonchalantly knife each other with their words: When Derek comments that he isn't very good at lying, Jil adds, "You don't try to — not with me." Doris casually retorts, "How could you know?"
Little exchanges like that garnish the already fraught scenario of the wife meeting the ex. As played by Costigan and Adair, their mutual antipathy is palpable, making the atmosphere thick with tension. The only drawback of this thrilling play is that it abruptly ends, leaving us awash in questions: What does the Mater want? Why would Neil ask Jil to join him on a drive, leaving Derek and Doris alone? Why does Hetty act like a guilty maid in a murder mystery, shifting her eyes from side to side? Holiday House feels like the first scene of a much longer play, the conclusion to which we very much wish we could see.
Banks decorates the transitions between plays by having the actors recite poems ("The Spiritual Canticle" by St. John of the Cross between the first two, "A Drover" by Padraic Colum between the second). The performers interpret the words beautifully, but it all seems like an excuse to kill time while drowning out the sound of the crew furiously changing the set behind the curtain. Vicki R. Davis designs appropriate sets for each play, but misses an opportunity to tie the four plays together through more seamless transitions.
The final play of the evening, The King of Spain's Daughter, is the only one of the group that was previous staged (by the Abbey Theatre in 1935) and it leaves us unsettled and impressed. It's about Annie (Deaver in a Hawthornesque red cardigan), a working-class girl at the precipice of adulthood. Her abusive father (Redmond) gives her the choice of marrying his coworker, Jim (A.J. Shively), or going to work in a factory. Neither option appeals to her. Cynthia Mace gives a particularly memorable performance as Mrs. Marks, an elderly busybody and general enforcer of the patriarchy.
Deevy's sensitivity for the plight of her countrywomen makes us wish more female playwrights from her era had been produced. One of the Mint's worthy goals is to highlight overlooked female playwrights, and with this somewhat sleepy and mismatched evening of short plays, it partially succeeds.
- world premiere
- Jonathan Bank
- Teresa Deevy
- murder mystery
- Mint Theater Company
- Aidan Redmond
- Abbey Theatre
- Gina Costigan
- Miles Malleson
- Colin Ryan
- Cynthia Mace
- Ellen Adair
- Sarah Nicole Deaver
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