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‘The Plough and the Stars’ by Sean O’Casey, the Sean O’Casey season at the Irish Repertory Theatre

lare O'Malley, Adam Petherbridge, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars

Clare O’Malley, Adam Petherbridge, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars’ (Carol Rosegg)

When it premiered at The Abbey Theatre in 1926, The Plough and the Stars initially opened to acclaim. However, word got out that O’Casey had written a play critical of Irish nationalism and religion, and the acclaim turned to disapprobation. O’Casey elected to focus on the hapless Dubliners, many women and children, who had been swept up in the bloodshed of the Easter Rising of 1916. During the five days of fierce fighting between the British and the Irish Citizen Army and Irish Republican Brotherhood, the British who had brought in heavy artillery, machine guns and bombshells with over nine times the troop strength of the Irish converted central Dublin and the tenements where citizens lived into a war zone. Because of the hundreds of citizen fatalities and thousands injured, the Irish rebels surrendered to save the city. The British took revenge with arrests and summary executions of the organizers, sealing the ill-will of Ireland and guaranteeing the irrevocability of Irish Independence.

Maryann Plunkett, Clare O'Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey, Charlotte Moore

Maryann Plunkett, Clare O’Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre, ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ by Sean O’Casey, directed by Charlotte Moore (Carol Rosegg)

In this last production of the Dublin Trilogy, the Irish Repertory Theatre, which has presented an amazing season of Sean O’Casey’s works, ends with its most masterful and emotional production to date. Directed by Charlotte Moore, O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars remains a sterling and representative human drama that soars into the heavens with the timeless message that there are no victors when members of the human family take up arms and kill each other. Assuredly, it is the innocent trying to make it to the next day, who become the casualties of violent conflicts. Those who die achieve a final peace; the living have to deal with the horrible memories and consequences of the aftermath of war.

The actors expertly shepherded by Moore effect O’Casey’s themes with emotional grist and power. As an ensemble their work together is exquisite, paced, focused, present. Because of their attention to moment-to-moment living onstage, the impact that rises from scene to scene and especially in the last scenes when the conflict and suspense are greatest are breathtakingly real and tragic.

James Russell, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Charlotte Moore, Sean O'Casey

James Russell, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ directed by Charlotte Moore, written by Sean O’Casey (Carol Rosegg)

The play follows the homely interactions of tenement dwellers in the latter part of 1915 and during the Easter Rebellion of 1916. These scenes of the every day lives of the tenement dwellers draw our empathy. In their discussions we become apprised that there are marches and meetings of various Irish groups who are gathering to amass political sentiment in support of the hoped for Irish rebellion and move toward independence. The meetings which have gained fervent advocates eventually come to a head and the play’s action shifts to events in Dublin during Easter Week 1916. It is then that O’Casey most acutely and poignantly reveals how these horrific events impact the lives of the Dubliners who live and hide in the tenements as they are shelled, shot at and warred against by the British Tommies who attempt to quash the rebellion.

In the first part of the production we note how O’Casey illustrates the divisions among the Irish citizens living in one lower middle class Dublin tenement. These characterizations develop and remain the focal point of the play. Some of the Dubliners have antithetical political affiliations like protestant, pro-British Bessie Burgess (the wonderful Maryann Plunkett who gives a heartfelt, frenzied, emotional portrayal throughout). Bessie’s son fought and died with the British as a Dublin Fusilier during early battles of The Great War. Her expressed rage and fury at the supporters of Irish Independence is understandable, though the other tenants think she is loathsome. Indeed, by the play’s end O’Casey’s twist of characterization proves her a formidable human being; and Maryann Plunkett brings this out in spades.

Mihael Mellamphy, Sarah Street, Harry Smith, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Irishrepertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): Michael Mellamphy, Sarah Street, Harry Smith, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ by Sean O’Casey, directed by Charlotte Moore (Carol Rosegg)

Others, like fiesty Peter Flynn (the humorous Robert Langdon Lloyd), the life-worn Mrs. Gogan (the fine Una Clancy) and Fluther Good (Michael Mellamphy is spot-on in his rousing portrayal of the carpenter who represents the typical working man) empathize with the Irish cause of independence as Catholics. Meanwhile, The Young Covey (the excellent James Russell) is the critical, anti-religious, acerbic intellectual who strafes the cause of independence with his caustic remarks. He is frustrated that the socialist cause he advocates has been redirected from the Worker’s of the World uniting to overthrow the capitalistic system.

John Keating, Adam Petherbridge, Clare O'Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): John Keating, Adam Petherbridge, Clare O’Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ by Sean O’Casey (Carol Rosegg)

Much of the humor in the first part of the play centers around O’Casey’s identification of the cross section of individuals who are disparate from one another in beliefs, religion and intellectual ethos. Yet they live in Dublin tenements and make up the culture and society of the city as they remain economically oppressed and without a voice in the government. We laugh as they carp and criticize each other to the extent that one wonders how the country will unite against the British at any level. Into this convulsed and funny hodgepodge of characters come the newly weds, the sweet, romantic Nora (Clare O’Malley gives a fervent, emotional and powerful performance throughout) and husband Jack (the sensitive and forceful Adam Petherbridge) who eventually, despite Nora’s surreptitious attempts to prevent this, is proudly made Commandant in the Irish Citizen Army.

Meg Hennessy, Clare O'Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): Meg Hennessy, Clare O’Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ by Sean O’Casey (Carol Rosegg)

Jack, infuriated that Nora withheld information of his promotion out of fear for his death, argues with her vehemently. Indeed, her self-interest and duplicity push him right into the arms of his mates. The scene where she admits she lied is dynamic and powerful. O’Casey’s characterizations are authentic and the actors (O’Malley and Petherbridge) are so letter perfect that we imagine such scenes playing out in households throughout Dublin and in a universal sense that this occurs in every war fought regardless of politics or nation. The timeless quality of war as a sacrifice of innocents is everpresent and beautifully rendered thematically in this scene.

As Young Covey, Fluther and Flynn meet and have drinks in a Public House after listening to speakers and continuing to listen to them from inside the pub, we meet additional Dublin denizens who will be impacted by the coming rebellion. These are the “lady of the night” Rosie Redmond (Sarah Street) and the Bartender who also plays Sargent Tinley (Harry Smith). In this interlude at the pub, the tension outside is rising and we note the success of the march and the rousing political speeches meant to mobilize the crowds.

Adam Petherbridge, Clare O'Malley, Irish REpertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey

Adam Petherbridge, Clare O’Malley, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ by Sean O’Casey (Carol Rosegg)

When Jack and his mates come into the pub and conclude the scene with their nationalistic cries, they wave the flag (The Plough and the Stars, and the Tricolor Flag of Irish Independence). As these volunteers uphold their allegiance to a free Ireland, they put their family, wives and homes second. Nora is abandoned and forgotten as Ireland becomes Jack’s family.

In the next scenes that take place during the Easter week, April 1916, the irony of Jack’s heady, ebullient nationalistic sentiment is pitted against the frightful horrors that these volunteers and tenement dwellers face in the violence during the five days they confront heavy artillery and machine guns. The booming sounds are heard in the distance. Nora who looks for Jack to bring him home (an ignominious, selfish and cowardly action from Jack’s perspective) proclaims that she sees the fear in the Irish soldiers’ eyes while the soldiers she meets tell her she is shaming Jack.

Una Clancy, Maryann Plunkett, Irish Repertory Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey

(L to R): Una Clancy, Maryann Plunkett, Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Plough and the Stars,’ by Sean O’Casey (Carol Rosegg)

In this fabulously directed scene that is tense, frightful, poignant and rage-filled, Nora struggles physically with Jack to keep him with her. And Bessie screams epithets and insults at Jack, Captain Brennan (John Keating) and the wounded dying Lieutenant Langon (Ed Malone). At the height of the drama, Jack berates Nora for attempting to keep him from fighting the cause, then he and the others leave to look for a doctor. Bessie who has a turn of empathy for Nora brings her safely inside, then runs for a doctor to help Mrs. Gogan’s dying daughter Mollser (Meg Hennessy). Kudos to the superb ensemble and the principals whose urgency and focus create the incredible tension in the scene. The audience is enthralled throughout.

As marvelous as Act III is, O’Casey’s climax in Act IV is without parallel and Moore and the actors are beyond exceptional in bringing the conclusion to its final glowing draw-down. O’Casey hammers his themes. These, he has seeded earlier in the play. In the final act they foment with the growing chaos which sweeps up various individuals unwittingly caught in the rebellion, i.e. The Woman from Rathmines (Terry Donnelly). Everyone who can be represented is. O’Casey reveals the tragedy and futility of innocents dying as they are mistaken for “the enemy.” In this last act of this most incredibly paced and dramatically written of his plays, we understand the genius of his message to humanity, which has been ignored and will continue to be ignored long into the next century.

There is no spoiler alert. You will just have to see how the conclusion unfolds ironically in this must-see production which is truly magnificent and fiercely trenchant and timely. I cannot praise this production with high enough encomiums for the director and cast except to say it will be a damn shame if you miss it.

Charlie Cororan (Scenic Design) Linda Fisher and David Toser (Costume Design) Michael Gottlieb (Lighting Design) Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab (Sound Design) and Ryan Rumery (Original Music) and others on the artistic team do a superb job in bringing about the authenticity of this production.

The Plough and the Stars (with one intermission) and the entire Dublin Trilogy can be seen until 22nd June at the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd). For tickets and times go to the website by CLICKING HERE.

 

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NYC Theater: ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ Starring Melissa Errico at The Irish Rep

Charlotte Moore, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, John Cudia, Melissa Errico, Irish Repertory Theatre

John Cudia, Melissa Errico in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,’ directed by Charlotte Moore (Carol Rosegg)

I did not see the Broadway versions (1965, 2011) of the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever by Burton Lane (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics). Paramount Studio made a film of the musical starring Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand, which has been listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest musical films ever. Unfamiliar with the theater versions and the film, I did have a passing recognition of the more tuneful, memorable songs.

Thus, I came to Charlotte Moore’s adaptation of the show, currently running at the Irish Repertory Theatre, with a fresh perspective. The musical for years has been incorrectly (to my mind) characterized as “odd,” but I could not disagree more. I appreciated the Irish Rep’s revival and the lyrical, lovely music conducted by Gary Adler, engendered by music director John Bell and orchestrated by Josh Clayton. And I loved Moore’s canny direction and the accomplished, thrilling lead performances of Melissa Errico and Stephen Bogardus. Furthermore, the fine ensemble, also headed up by John Cudia as Edward Moncrief, strongly undergirded the dynamism of the revival/adaptation. Indeed, this production soars as a delightful theatrical experience full of whimsy, joy, and charm.

Melissa Errico, Stephen Bogardus, Irish Repertory Theatre, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Charlotte Moore

Melissa Errico, Stephen Bogardus in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ (Carol Rosegg)

If one finds it difficult to accept the possibility of other realms of consciousness and making contact with past lives, the plot may appear inconsistently fantastic. Might we recall past identities, floating in our conscious or unconscious minds and impacting us in the present? Dr. Mark Bruckner (the gorgeously resonant-voiced Bogardus) through hypnosis regresses Daisy Gamble (played with energetic grace and verve by Errico). This premise, that we can recall past lives through hypnosis – an idea especially popular in the 1960s – grounds the play’s structure.

The regression occurs with Daisy’s permission after Dr. Bruckner discovers her amazing psychic gifts of precognition and telepathy. Threaded into her personality is a healthy dose of prescience. She predicts when the phone will ring. She communicates psychically and receives others’ thoughts. Of course, who communicates with her telepathically makes a difference, and why she receives their thoughts and not those of others conveys one of the play’s themes.

To say Daisy manifests the flexibility to suspend the culture’s rational materialism remains an understatement. And Errico handles Daisy’s gifts with authenticity and humor. For example, when she sings “Hurry It’s Lovely Up Here” to illustrate to Dr. Bruckner that her plants blossom speedily with her love talk, her luscious singing provokes our belief in Daisy’s extrasensory powers. With Errico’s magical, musical show-woman-ship, such feats of telepathy, etc., become humorous and matter-of-fact realistic.

Melissa Errico, Stephen Bogardus, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre

Stephen Bogardus, Melissa Errico, the Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ (Carol Rosegg)

It’s when Daisy and friends attend a group hypnosis session to stop smoking that the doctor notes her unusual susceptibility to hypnosis. Intrigued, he regresses her. With few props, clever costumes, and elusive painted projections, Moore and her artistic team stage 1960s New York City and 18th-century England adroitly. Somehow, the team’s artistry effects Daisy’s/Melinda’s environments and consciousness with appropriate, minimalistic fanfare. After all, this is a play about the mind, the intellect, and one’s ability to receive glimpses of the forever in the here and now. The small stage and pared-down sets and casting at The Irish Rep seem appropriately intimate for the overarching themes about the mysteries of life’s incorporeal beauty and spiritual grace in all living creation.

John Cudia, Melissa Errico, Irish Repertory Theatre, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Charlotte Moore

John Cudia, Melissa Errico in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ (Carol Rosegg)

Under regression, Daisy transforms into elegant, well-healed Melinda Welles, replete with British accent and cool impassioned femininity. When her lover becomes her philandering husband Edward Moncrief (Cudia’s rich operatic voice melds beautifully with Errico’s in “She Wasn’t You”), and pursues many dalliances, unlike women of her time she revolts. To escape her misery and begin a new life, she books a passage to America. But her physical body never makes it. Perhaps her spiritual desire manifests through someone else? Regardless, Melinda, in Daisy’s unconscious, has arrived in Brooklyn and shows up when the time to manifest becomes appropriate. This notion teases with ironic humor.

Dr. Bruckner falls for the exotic, elusive Melinda (Bogardus impeccably renders the lovely song “Melinda”).  We understand his amazement at this other woman who appears when Daisy falls into unconsciousness under hypnosis. Melinda represents Daisy in a mysterious connection to the present which has yet to be revealed at this point.

Stephen Bogardus, Irish Repertory Theatre, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Charlotte Moore

Stephen Bogardus in Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ (Carol Rosegg)

Errico exquisitely portrays the dual opposites, Daisy and Melinda, as head and tail of the same coin. She slips from cool Brit to zany New Yorker smoothly, but the transformation remains a cipher. Daisy’s bubbly exuberance, Brooklyn-accented loquaciousness, and peculiar comfort with her psychic gifts belies insecurity and self-debasement. And Errico’s poised, mannered, suppressed Melinda belies the broiling, impolitic, rash female maverick. For she erupts, revolts against the cultural limitations of her sex, and sets out on a fateful voyage of doom.

But when Daisy discovers the tape of her regression sessions and realizes she loves Bruckner, she becomes jealous of the aspect of herself beloved by the doctor – Melinda. The amazing “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” that Daisy sings in anger and hurt is ultimately ironic, because she doesn’t realize that her past consciousness of Melinda is an element of her own character and ethos. Yet the song through Errico’s instrument becomes transcendent, a universal song of lost love after initial passion has faded. That both Daisy and Melinda are ultimately one she cannot realize until Bruckner evolves to understand his love for all of her.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Charlotte Moore, Melissa Errico, Irish Repertory Theatre

Melissa Errico and ensemble in Irish Repertory Theatre’s ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,’ directed by Charlotte Moore (Carol Rosegg)

That one character (Daisy) encompasses and feeds into the other (Melinda) reveals Alan Lerner’s depth in flirting with the complexity and intricacy of consciousness. And the depth with which the writer characterizes the evolution of Dr. Bruckner’s self-transformations also reveals his flirtation with novel, profound ideas.

The love Dr. Bruckner feels – first for Melinda – evolves into the knowledge that Daisy and Melinda inhabit the being of the same woman. Thus, at a crucial moment he saves her and assists in her own evolution as a modern woman who loves a worthier man than the one left behind in another time and place. Bogardus renders the gradual evolution of Bruckner’s love beautifully in his ironic comments to Melinda when she and Moncrief show affection to one another. Then it gloriously bursts out in his incredible, full-throttle rendition of “Come Back to Me” after his revelation that he has grown to love Daisy/Melinda as one.

Melissa Errio, Irish Repertory Theatre, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Charlotte Moore

Melissa Errico and the cast of the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival, ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ (Carol Rosegg)

Clearly, in helping her connect the present with the past in her own consciousness, Bruckner frees himself to love. And he helps free Daisy to return his love without jeopardizing her own psychic integrity. Finally, they solve how the mystery of Melinda’s death links to the present in a vital, uncanny way. The union of Daisy’s and Melinda’s consciousnesses binds Bruckner and Daisy in an incomparable clarity of vision, a way of seeing that gives them and their friends a glimpse into their interconnectedness with forever, the spirit, the eternal.

At the crux of Lerner’s and Lane’s work remains the theme that life encompasses more than materialism and empiricism. And in everpresent time, the past, present, and future may conjoin in the spiritual plane. We may be too distracted with the corporeal realm to understand how. Yet perhaps there are indeed realms of forever to which all of us are attached, whether we realize it or not. Finally, as Daisy Gamble learns, for those who have a gift of “second sight,” life is expansive. Used beneficially, such gifts may allow one to enjoy life’s beauties more fully and help others do the same. And in that expansiveness, one will probably discover the true meaning of love. The title song, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” best represents this theme.

In her adaptation of this musical Moore reconfigures the action and characters concisely and adriotly. With the help of music director John Bell, choreographer Barry McNabb, scenic designer/projection artist James Morgan, costume designer Whitney Locher, lighting designer Mary Jo Dondlinger, sound designer M. Florian Staab, projection designer Ryan Belock, the musicians, the ensemble, and the leads, this version of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever shines like a beacon of truth.

Do you yearn to  get away from the current news cycles and our country’s present turmoils? If so this is a must-see. For you will have an extraordinary and uplifting time watching the team beautifully, seamlessly render the illusive with authenticity. The cast’s ebullience and the show’s ironic twists of humor will remind you of goodness. And you will feel embraced by the airiness of light. It would be a pity to miss the fun and romance, layered with an ethereal message we need to be reminded of.

The Irish Repertory Theatre’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever runs until 12 August. Tickets are available online.

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