A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing – Confusing

At the beginning, it’s impossible to tell when actress Jenn Murphy is playing the girl’s mother or the girl herself. Who’s pregnant? Is she speaking from her mother’s belly? Then there are two children. The boy seems to have mental disabilities, his sister is protective. Ah, the girl is the sister, though when she plays her mother transition is ambiguous. The girl’s Catholic grandfather admonishes her mother for the boy’s not knowing his “Hail Mary.”

We’re aware when her uncle takes her virginity at 13, when she gets into college and begins having indiscriminate sex, and when her brother dies. Character to character morphing continues undefined. The uncle, obsessed, is back in the picture. The coed’s sex with strangers – fast, uncaring, sometimes brutal and dangerous – increases. These are some of the best parentheses, a combination of dialogue, sound effects and poetic descriptions like a cross between James Joyce and serious porn. “Girlie, Girlie…like a song…he hits her again and again…what she wants…” One shudders.

The program says young Irish women, particularly during this time period (when?) “were often failed by people in positions of power they were supposed to be able to trust, and left wounded without any guidance on how to heal.” Hardly specific to the Irish. The girl’s relationship to her mother before leaving home is unclear. She had no one to tell (in rural Ireland?) what happened to her. Love of her brother is indicated by a single incident. All of this might be clearer in Elmear McBride’s multiple award-winning novel. With Annie Ryan’s adaptation, we’re at sea.

Nicola Murphy’s direction allows only seconds for emotional registration. Little lands squarely except repeated anxiety and violence. Jenn Murray does her best handicapped on two fronts, dramatically coming into her own at the end of the story.

All this is compounded by the undecipherable set by Chen-Wei Liao which seems to bear no relationship to the play. It’s as if textured walls resembling a cave/grotto were left from another production alternately sharing the stage. Gold shapes like torn paper embedded in the walls occasionally light up. What?!

Photo courtesy of the production

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Emear McBride
Adapted by Annie Ryan
Directed by Nicola Murphy
Featuring Jean Murray                                                                                                          Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22 Street

Through December 12, 2021

About Alix Cohen (1186 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.