“The tragic impulse is strange – to have a tragic outlook on the world. You know, the conflict between who we think we are, and who we actually are…how we live and how we die, I think that is so important – how one dies…that we are going to die, and that we get it so wrong.” Playwright Marina Carr
I’ve just spent two electrifying hours watching a woman’s last passionate burst of life before passing. Probably morbid by dictionary definition, it’s also riveting; rife with poignancy, frustration, ego, anger, defiance, awareness, love, and emotional pain we rarely see in lives portrayed mid-journey. The play is startling and imaginative.
Midlands, Ireland. Having been brought back against her wishes on the way to die alone, “Woman” (Stephanie Roth Haberle) is at home in bed. Also in the room are alter ego/angel Scarecrow (Pamela J. Gray), who represents the ardent heart with which Woman wrestles still and, temporarily shut in the wardrobe, a growling, fiery Reaper. Is the heroine ill or just determined to exit?
Dale Soules, Pamela J. Gray, Stephanie Roth Haberle
The protagonist raves about her eight children – “You just wanted head-count,” Scarecrow admonishes, blatantly unfaithful husband “I adore him,” she insists, possible affairs are, Scarecrow notes “acts of revenge,” and reconstructed past “You’re lying,” her alter ego darkly reminds. She examines her visage, writes instructions about the funeral, and argues vehemently with Scarecrow, who insists there were alternatives to this outcome.
Husband “Him” (Aiden Redmond) comes in to check on Woman, alternately solicitous and horrifically insensitive. Even now, there’s a lover waiting. He complains that the rest of the house is filled with his wife’s relatives eating and drinking everything not tied down, literally doesn’t know the names of his rarely seen children, and is misogynistically outraged at revelations about her time in his absence.
Aunty Ah (Dale Soules) is in attendance to see her niece through and lay her out as she did Woman’s mother. We infer she’s been judgmental in the past and has softened some now, but not so much. Representative of Catholicism and tradition, she’s dutifully compassionate and habitually practical. Neither Aunty Ah nor Him can see or hear Scarecrow.
Aidan Redmond, Stephanie Roth Haberle
Language is rich, character and situation beautifully detailed. What, in fact, is a good way to die? Has it to do with grace, honesty, generosity, courage, faith, the life one lived? Is the nature of an honorable death the same on a Spartan battlefield as it is in one’s bed? Questions will occur at intermission or after curtain. During the piece, one is immersed.
“Upon this bank and shoal of time, I’ll leap to time to come.” Shakespeare
We believe Aidan Redmond’s oblivious husband. The actor offers a nuanced portrayal with layers of conflicted feelings. Confusion and fear are as clearly undercurrents as rage, shock, and the habit of connection are on the surface.
Equally as credible, Dale Soules’ Aunty Ah enters an atmosphere that seems like spiritual limbo with a blast of prosaic real life, lest we and they forget. One can almost see the actor think.
As Scarecrow, Pamela J. Gray whom I’ve highly praised in several PTP Howard Barker plays, vibrates with focus/presence. Employed by Marina Carr to add a touch of humor as well as critical scrutiny, unconditional attachment, and otherworldly foreboding, Gray never lets us down. She’s vivid and compelling.
Stephanie Roth Haberle, Pamela J. Gray
Stephanie Roth Haberle (Woman) has the well sharpened chops of a classically trained actor. She moves beautifully, imbues every word with vibrant importance (to the character as well as us) and inhabits experience as if possessed, wrenching every thought and memory from her gut. Haberle sustains the difficult role, ever discovering different levels from which to draw and deliver. The appearance is a master class in acting.
Director Ciaran Hinds must’ve had a field day with this one; everything is open to interpretation. Woman’s emotionally visceral and demonstratively physical expression is often Isadora Duncan dance-like. Though her corporeal body may be supine, the actress rarely is. Feelings rip through her almost visibly leaving rips and blood trails. In contrast, Scarecrow stands outside of time, often silent, but volubly in the room, speaking with authority and devotion even when furious. Both Aunty and Him emerge whole, nuanced people. The thing in the wardrobe is…
Charlie Cochran (Scenic Design) has manifest a dimensional bedroom allowing specters free reign without impeding credibility.
Costume Designer Whitney Locher dresses everyone with unfussy appropriateness; the being in the wardrobe (who eventually emerges) is inspired.
Both Michael Gottlieb’s Lighting Design and Ryan Rumery’s Sound and Music Design are just as one might have conceived given the skills i.e. evocatively right.
This is a helluva ride. A powerful, conceivably polarizing piece wonderfully realized. Not to be missed.
Note: I wish playwrights would name all their characters. “Woman” and “Him” are from an off-putting, generic tradition of theater of the absurd while Aunty Ah is real and Scarecrow clearly fantastical creating dissonance.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Pamela J. Gray and Stephanie Roth Haberle
Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through June 24, 2018