by Hugh Hunter
The Irish Heritage Theatre opened its season at Plays and Players in center city with “A Night with Lady G”. The show is a collection of three one-act plays by Lady Augusta Gregory that run for about 90 minutes. Set in West Ireland in 1900, all of its characters are poor in money but rich in humor and sadness.
Lady Gregory was Anglo-Irish. Politically, she was a British unionist in her early years, but as her interest in Irish folklore grew, she converted to the nationalist cause. Along with poet W. B Yeats (also Anglo-Irish) and Edward Martyn, she co-founded Abbey theatre in 1899, dedicated to the development of Irish dramatics.
“The Rising of the Moon” is a bit ideological and hints at a convert’s zeal. On a dark night at a river wharf, Sergeant (John Cannon) hunts for a nationalist gunman (Steve Gleich) only to discover that he shares an emotional bond with the fugitive. The performances of Cannon and Gleich are finely poised, but I did not feel that Gregory’s script gave the gunman the means to win over the sergeant’s heart.
The comedies stand on firmer ground. In “The Workhouse Ward” two old men in wheelchairs, Miskell (John Cannon) and McInerney (Steve Gulick), continue their lifelong habit of venomous quarreling. Then McInerney’s sister, Honor (Kate Danaher), shows up; when she offers to take McInerney into her home, both men are thrown into a panic at the prospect of their separation.
“Spreading The News” has a lovely fairy tale feel. The entire troupe of nine actors, including James Guckin, Emily Mattison, Jackie Gordon and Mary Pat Walsh, take the stage and spread the rumor that Bartley Fallon (Jason Eric Klemm) killed Jack Smith (Keith Miller). With help from costume designer Michelle Mercier, each community member is vibrantly involved in retelling a story that comically distorts the truth.
The small third floor arena at Plays and Players is an intimate venue, and directors John Gallagher and Peggy Mecham exploit its dark brick wall and delicate spaces. The sets with their plain benches and wooden barrels are aesthetically pleasing, and light designer Andrew Cowles plays off the ambient darkness in subtle ways.
Producer Armen Pandola has been involved with Irish Heritage Theatre since its founding in 2011 with the mission of presenting the Irish classics. The American cast had plausible accents, and the musicality of Irish-English gives the language an exotic charm.
It is a quality in Irish speech that Lady Gregory was eager to exploit. Today her plays languish in relative obscurity, a state of affairs the Irish Heritage Theatre seeks to change. At their best they invoke Ireland’s comic-tragic sensibility, and IHT is off to a good start with this engaging show.
Plays and Players is located at 1714 Delancey Place. “A Night with Lady G” will run through Oct 25. Tickets available at www.irishheritagetheatre.org.