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"How do you pronounce it again?"
Natalie Rose Liberace and Nancy E. Carroll
in Bailegangaire
Storytelling is something the Irish are famous for having perfected...and they're not too shabby at drama, either. In Tom Murphy's play Bailegangaire, the latest offering by the Súgán Theatre Company, a large part of the drama is the storytelling.

Bailegangaire (pronounced "balya-gon-goyra") is a Gaelic word meaning "the town without laughter." It is this town that the almost senile Mommo (Nancy E. Carroll) rattles on about nearly non-stop for the duration of the play, which takes place in a tiny thatched house in 1984 Ireland. From her bed, the elderly woman tells the tale of how Bailegangaire got its name while her granddaughter Mary (Natalie Rose Liberace) labors to make Mommo's tea, begs the old woman to stop her endless story, and tries to maintain her sanity. When Mary's sister Dolly (Judith McIntyre) shows up on her motorcycle for a perfunctory visit, all dolled up and ready to leave as quick as she came, it appears that this is the same old story--one long-suffering granddaughter cares for the ailing matriarch while the other abnegates her responsibility. But it turns out that that isn't really the case at all.

Murphy's play, which debuted in Galway in 1985, is funny but not hilarious, serious but not deadly serious. To be honest, it is also sometimes boring, at least by MTV-saturated American standards. In Ireland, Murphy has long been a very popular playwright; perhaps his own people have more of the patience required to listen to long, lilting monologues like those delivered by Mommo. Part of the problem is that it takes the audience a while to catch onto the importance of the story that she is telling--it isn't just babble, and paying attention to it does pay off in the end.

In fact, Mary, at first indulgent and soon annoyed at Mommo's story--which she has apparently been telling for days, weeks, or even months--eventually becomes obsessed with making her finish it. It is at this point that the play really picks up: Mommo becomes more animated in her storytelling and Mary becomes more manic, even dangerous, when Mommo threatens to fall asleep for the night without completing her yarn. Mary's desire to hear the end of the tale is infectious and, therefore, the play is increasingly engaging as it moves towards its conclusion.

Súgán, dedicated to presenting contemporary plays about Irish and Celtic culture, gives Bailegangaire a nice, intimate production. Set designer J. Michael Griggs, lighting designer Katherine Peter, costume designer Sarah Chapman, and sound designer Julie Pittman all work together to evoke the warm atmosphere and cool temperature of the little cottage that Mommo and Mary call home. All three women give believable performances, with special kudos going to Carroll for her impressive and memorable rendering of the delightfully cantankerous Mommo.

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