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‘London Assurance’ directed by Charlotte Moore at The Irish Repertory Theatre, a Christmas Treat

London Assurance, Irish Repertory Theatre, Charlotte Moore, Dion Boucicault,Craig Wesley Divino, Meg Hennessy, Ian Holcomb, Elliot Joseph, Brian Keane, olin McPhillamy, Rachel Pickup, Caroline Strang, Evanz es, Robert Zukerman

(L to R): Colin McPhillamy, Elliot Joseph, Caroline Strang, Rachel Pickup,

London Assurance, the vibrant farce by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore at the Irish Rep is the perfect production for the Christmas season to keep the cheer bright. The acting is superb, the pacing of high jinx is acutely shepherded by Moore. Altogether, there is everything to like and enjoy and nothing to find fault with in this production which runs until 26 January.

A mix between a drawing room comedy and slapstick without the physicality but oodles of wordplay, Boucicault’s London Assurance also satirizes stock character types, social classes and the notions of marriage for convenience which was beginning to be blown away by the idea of love matches, at the time the play takes place Christmastime, 1841.

Brian Keane, Colin McPhillamy, London Assurance, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre Dion Boucicault

(L to R): Brian Keane, Colin MPhillamy in ‘London Assurance,’ by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

The action begins when dissolute Charles Courtly (Ian Holcomb) arrives with his friend Dazzle (Craig Wesley Divino) in the morning hours after a night of hard drinking and partying. Charles lives with his father Sir Harcourt Courtly (Colin McPhillamy is perfection as the fop who is easily duped by his own puffery). Courtly believes his son to be the innocent, demure, hard-working student who eschews gambling and drinking. He is the antithesis. Servant Cool (Elliot Joseph) lies to protect Charles.

Meg Hennessy, Caroline Strang London Assurance, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre Dion Boucicault

(L to R): Meg Hennessy, Caroline Strang in ‘London Assurance,’ by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

After Dazzle and Cool carry Charles off in a drunken stupor, Sir Courtly enters in his dressing gown wishing for his breakfast. Courtly reminds Cool of the recent most important events of his life. He and his friend Max Harkaway (the fine Brian Keane) have arranged for the elderly Courtly’s marriage to Max’s young, beautiful niece Grace (Caroline Strang) in exchange for an obviation of debts and her dowry. If Courtly or Grace nullifies the arrangement, Grace’s money will be Charles’ inheritance.

The arc of development involves the foiling of Courtly’s plans when all visit Max’ country estate in Glouestershire where Courtly is supposed to finalize his engagement to Grace. Max has invited Dazzle and of course Dazzle brings along Charles for the rollicking fun the visit promises to be, though Sir Courtly doesn’t realize that Charles has joined the party. At Max’ estate, Grace meets a disguised Charles who poses as Augustus Hamilton to dupe his father who believes him to be home studying. Both Holcomb and McPhillamy pull off the bad disguise non-recognition and Sir Courtly’s dubious response to his son’s “lookalike” with great humor.

Carolines trang, Ian Holcomb,London Assurance, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre Dion Boucicault

Caroline Strang, Ian Holcomb, in ‘London Assurance,’ by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Charles, ever the playboy, flirts with Grace unaware that she is his future mother. For her part Grace is sanguine about marrying Sir Courtly, but falls in a hot love with Charles. What are they to do? How can they put off Sir Courtly and Uncle Max Harkaway and effect their marriage to each other? By this point in the plot the playwright has drawn us in for Sir Courtly is no particular catch and to American audiences today, the idea of a woman having to drop her dowry in the lap of an elderly gentleman in order to survive is almost unthinkable, especially when the marriage has been arranged for her.

In the succeeding scenes we meet the lovely friends of Max, Lady Gay Spanker (the wonderfully comedic Rachel Pickup) and her ancient-looking husband Adolphus Spanker (Robert Zukerman draws many laughs with his outrage about the duel) who is vital, spry and a force of nature whom Lady Gay Spanker loves as her protector. However, when Charles beseeches Lady Gay for her help to dissuade his father from sealing “the deal” with Max for Grace, Lady Gay thinks of a humorous idea to break up plans of Sir Courtly’s marriage.

Rachel Pickup, London Assurance, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre Dion Boucicault

Rachel Pickup in ‘London Assurance, by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

In great good fun she seduces the pompous Sir Courtly to fall in love with her behind her husband’s and Grace’s back. Sir Courtly who believes himself to be twenty years younger and on the cutting edge of fashion, is tricked by Lady Gay. He rushes after her to win her kisses and affection. Of course, when Spanker hears that his wife may separate from him, his reaction is hysterical. Meanwhile, Lady Gay is having the time of her life in harmless fun to help out two young lovers who doubt each other’s love. The complications rise and Lady Gay works her miracle for a good cause, until…

This is no spoiler alert. You will just have to see this humorous LOL production to appreciate how the playwright adds complex and humorous twists to the relationship,s and magnifies mishaps and errors raising the stakes and jokes to a delightful climax with a duel.

cOlin MPhillamy, Rachel Pickup, ,London Assurance, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre Dion Boucicault

Colin McPhillamy, Rachel Pickup in in ‘London Assurance, by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

Charlotte Moore’s sense of comedic timing, what does and doesn’t work has been engineered to a fine froth so that the actors appear to be these authentic, vivacious, funny individuals. I cannot imagine Colin McPhillamy, Ian Holcomb, Rachel Pickup, Robert Zukerman, Caroline Strang, Evan Zes (the funny conniving lawyer) Brian Keane, Craig Wesley Divino, Elliot Joseph and Meg Hennessy sounding and behaving any differently in real life than they do onstage. Their performances are stunning. Their timing is spot-on.

Interestingly, the cast has managed to portray their characters so that they are not “the types” they appear to be, but are funny because their traits are humorous. Evan Zes as the “sneaky, obtrusive” lawyer Mark Meddle dismissed by Meg Hennessy’s “go-to-girl” Pert, with the accusation of “slander” is an example.  In the hands of these actors this is accomplished with seamless effort. Additionally, the actors handle the asides to the audience with an easy, intimate confessional tone that enhances the comedy. Finally, we enjoy the foibles of each character whom the actors have invested in with their perceptive, canny skills.

Robert Zuckerman, Evan Zes, London Assurance, Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre Dion Boucicault

Robert Zuckerman, Evan Zes in ‘London Assurance, by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

The sets sparkle with beauty and apparent luxury thanks to James Noone’s scenic design. The interiors are befitting of what one would expect of Sir Courtly’s and Max’s residences. Likewise, Sara Jean Tosetti’s costume design and Robert-Charles Vallance’s hair designs authenticate the period and social status of the characters with excellence. Lady Gay’s purples (I loved her costumes that reflected her expansive, easy character) matched with a lighter shade of purple for her husband’s cravat (?). As a couple they reflected a refined, spiffy, fascinating dynamic. Indeed the creative team’s techniques and strategies inspired by Charlotte Moore’s vision for the production were not overblown, but were “a Goldilocks.” Rounding out the team are Michael Gottlieb’s lighting desgin and M. Florian Staab’s sound design. The music was lighthearted and chosen for the splendid mood of the production.

Once again Irish Repertory Theatre proves its stalwart magnificence for the season with this marvelous comedy that Charlotte Moore, the ensemble and creative team have imbued with their joie de vivre and experience. If you don’t see it, you will have missed a special production. London Assurance runs with one intermission until 26 January. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

 

Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, a LPTW Event at Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Angela Lansbury is a phenomenon at 94-years-young. She’s still acting, still beaming, still working on her craft. What a pleasure for the The League of Professional Theatre Women and the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts to host an interview with Angela Lansbury conducted by friend, actress and Artistic Director of Irish Repertory Theatre in New York, Charlotte Moore. Both women have secured their place in the New York Theatre community and are a joy to know and work with.

The interview was held Thursday, 14 November at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as a free event produced by Ludovica Villar-Hauser with LPTW members in attendance along with friends of Ms. Lansbury and Ms. Moore. All present were delighted to discover Ms. Lansbury’s wisdom and hear stories about her career which spans seventy-five years and includes performances on stage, in films and on television.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

A Tony Award winner for Mame (1966). Ms. Lansbury made her stage debut with Bert Lahr in Hotel Paradiso (1957) and was in her first musical Anyone Can Whistle in 1964. Since Mame, she has won four more Tonys for Dear World (1968) Gypsy (1974) Sweeney Todd (1979) and Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit for her portrayal of Madam Arcati (2009) which she played five years later at London’s Gielgud Theatre winning an Olivier Award. Other London performances range from the RSC production of Edward Albee’s All Over, to Hamlet co-starring Albert Finney at the National Theatre.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Angela Lansbury, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

You may have seen Ms. Lansbury in Deuce by Terrence McNally (2007) Madame Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (2010) or Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (2012), all on Broadway. And if you were in Australia in 2013 you might have been able to catch her on tour with James Earl Jones in the acclaimed production of Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Appearing in over 70 films, Ms. Lansbury was a part of the Studio System. She began at age seventeen with Gaslight (1944) working with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer whom she mentioned were kind to her as a youngster starting out. Her performance as Laurence Harvey’s mother in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and Laurence  Harvey for which she is perhaps most noted, won her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. That she was around the same age as Laurence Harvey and was able to convince theatergoers that she was his steely, cool, politically compromised mother is certainly a testament of her acting skills.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

As a side note, both Gaslight and The Manchurian Candidate are so striking as cult classics, they have produced memes that have been used with references to their dramatic plots. The memes are currently on Social media.”Gaslighting” has come to mean tricking or conniving to brainwash then victimize. (It references the husband’s nefarious plot to dupe his wife into thinking she is insane.)  “Manchurian Candidate” has come to mean an unwitting puppet groomed and compromised by an adversarial government. (It references a useless idiot brainwashed to believe an alternate reality for an adversarial government’s nefarious purposes to further their own agenda and destroy a nation from within.)

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

In films Ms. Lansbury acted with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and became friends with her and Richard Burton and many other Hollywood greats, for example Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. Recently, Ms. Lansbury has been in Nanny MPhee, Mary Poppins Returns and the animated The Grinch That Stole Christmas.

When she took the starring role as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, it was a boon. She was so beloved, that the network kept the show running for 12 seasons, 264 performances from 1984-1996. It was the longest-running detective drama series in TV history. As a result she was either nominated or won the Golden Globe as Best Performance by an Actress in a TV series 10 out of the 12 years the series ran (5 Golden Globes). And she was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy 18 times.

The rest of her award list belies that Angela Lansbury is very charming and humble in person. She is a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. She won 3 Oscars, a Silver Mask for Lifetime Achievement from  the British Academy, and an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in Motion Pictures. In 2014 she was named a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. But perhaps her greatest honor was her marriage to motion picture executive Peter Shaw for 53 years. In her discussion she noted the pleasure of raising her three children and looking forward to watching her three grandchildren grow up.

Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Charlotte Moore co-founded the award-winning Irish Repertory Theatre with Ciarán O’Reilly in 1988 after acting together and discussing Irish theater. It was an event of synchronicity for as they bonded, they decided to work together to form the successful Irish Repertory Theatre.

Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Before her fated discussions with Ciarán O’Reilly, Charlotte Moore appeared in A Perfect Ganesh, The Perfect Party and Private Lives on Broadway (with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who became dear friends) to name a few productions. She also appeared in many performances with the New York Shakespeare Festival. During the thirty-one years at the Irish Repertory Theatre she has directed almost eighty productions, the most recent being The Plough and the Stars, part of the Sean O’Casey Season and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Ms. Moore has received two Tony Award nominations, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Drama League Award, the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2008 Irish Women of the Year Award. In 2011 she was named “Director of the Year” by The Wall Street Journal. This year Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly will receive Ireland’s Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.

Charlotte Moore asked Ms. Lansbury about her friendships with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, mutual friends. Ms. Lansbury mentioned that they came to see her perform and visited her backstage. And when they came, she made sure to have alcohol at the ready for the Burtons. This received much laughter. She noted the beauty of Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes. They were striking. One couldn’t help when one was in Ms. Taylor’s presence to not only listen to what she was saying but to note the stunning color of her eyes.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Charlotte Moore asked Ms. Lansbury about her relationship with Katherine Hepburn who many knew that in her later years became rather prickly; she didn’t suffer fools gladly.  After rolling her eyes at the implication that Katherine Hepburn was a definitive personality, which got a laugh, Ms. Lansbury said that they were good friends and Katherine Hepburn was an interesting and lovely individual. Ms. Lansbury would visit at Katherine Hepburn’s home on Long Island. (Ms. Lansbury pronounced it as the natives unwittingly do running the guttural “g” into the “Island” to much laughter.) She referenced that Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey were partners who would never be able to marry or go public with their relationship. However, she knew Tracey as well and she thought he was a superlative actor and lovely individual.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Angela Lansbury, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

When Charlotte Moore asked what it was like to work with Frank Sinatra, Ms. Lansbury was specific. He was a gentleman and they became good friends. It was not a romantic relationship. However, he took her under his wing and told her a lot about the Studios and Hollywood and a lot about the industry for which she was grateful and very appreciative. When asked about the nature of The Manchurian Candidate and the character she played. Ms. Lansbury was profound. Without being definitive and ruining it with one theory or another, she implied that The Manchurian Candidate was a complex film. There are no easy answers, especially with regard to the ending which cannot be framed as a thesis/antithesis, either “this” or “that.”

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Angela Lansbury, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

One of the interesting tips that Angela Lansbury suggested for budding actors is to leave their personality and their identity at home. She always tries to do that, to put aside her thoughts and concerns about her own life and immerse herself in the character she is playing. And she quipped that the characters were always more interesting anyway and that reality and being oneself is rather boring. Again, the audience laughed.

The overarching impression one received from the interview was that Angela Lansbury enjoyed working. Familiar to acting, like second nature, she started acting when she was a child, coming from an acting family (her mother was an actress). When Ms. Lansbury commented that she is British-Irish (her father British and her mother Irish) Charlotte Moore indicated her great pleasure about the “Irish part,” and the two shared the joke, considering that Charlotte Moore has devoted a good part of her life to uplifting Irish culture.

Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, LPTW, Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore, NYPL for the Performing Arts

(L to R): Angela Lansbury, Charlotte Moore, ‘Angela Lansbury in Conversation With Charlotte Moore,’ NYPL, LPTW, Bruno Walter Auditorium Lincoln Center (Carole Di Tosti)

Angela Lansbury actually is British-Irish-American. In fact her family came over during WW II (1939-1940) to escape The Blitz. With her mother and two brothers, she moved permanently to the United States. She studied acting in New York City and then proceeded to Hollywood, Los Angeles in 1942 and signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. There she obtained her first film roles, Gaslight (1944) and The Portrait of Dorian Grey (1945). She struck gold right then and there with two Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe.

When Ms. Moore asked what it was like working with George Cukor, Ms. Lansbury said he was a very fine director and no nonsense. She learned a lot from him, other directors and her co-actors with whom she always got along. Her pleasant attitude seems to always have been about being professional and following the suggestions of the director to enhance her character portrayals.

The easy conversation between Ms. Lansbury and Ms. Moore flew by. The audience was sorry that it had to end. Members of LPTW, friends and patrons of Lincoln Center and the Irish Repertory Theatre gave Ms. Lansbury a standing ovation in celebration of her life and career spreading joy to millions.

 

 

‘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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