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Leah Gabriel

The Clearing – Cromwell in Ireland


Ireland 1650s. King Charles has been executed. Oliver Cromwell, with the title “Lord Lieutenant and General for the Parliament of England” invades Ireland with a huge army. A rabid, uncompromising Protestant, he violently tears the country from control of “Papist Catholics.” Those who offer support are let be; those who resist (including religious affiliation) are hung or summarily exiled to the Indies in ships’ holds. Lands/estates are confiscated to pay off military and mercenary debts.

The inadequate program offers not a clue of when we are or what’s happening, while the script lists both of these. (It also fails to tell us anything about the playwright.) Actors in modern day, casual dress further compound early confusion.  (This is carried WAY too far with later appearance of a cell phone.) You will gradually find your way into history – or not.


Hamish Allan-Headley and Quinn Cassavale 

Madeleine (Quinn Cassavale), an Irish woman, has rejected childhood sweetheart Pierce (Hamish Allan-Headley) to leave her home, cross political, some say moral boundaries, and marry Englishman Robert Preston (Jakob von Eichel). The couple takes up residence at his family estate in County Kildare. Isolated, she depends on the companionship of Killaine (Lauren Currie Lewis), a kind of naïve, but loving sprite about whom she feels hugely protective. Once her servant, the girl has become an intimate. Irish neighbors Solomon Winter (David Licht) and his wife Susaneh (Tessa Zugmeyer) appear to offer friendship, but Maddie fears they judge her.


Quinn Cassavale

The Prestons are in love. They have a child, plant a garden, and, fairly unaware of what’s fermenting around them, are looking forward to long, peaceful lives. (Robert puts the news down to rumors.) Then, the county’s new British Governor, Sir Charles Sturman (Neal Mayer), begins implementing Cromwell’s “laws.”

Pierce, a Tory, goes into hiding with rebel forces. Robert quietly helps the British convincing himself, in light of an Irish wife, his behavior is neutral, The Winters are brought up before the courts and told they must “transplant.” This is a story of allegiance and betrayal; flight, death and survival.


David Licht and Tessa Zugmeyer

Playwright Helen Edmundson has written a classic piece of historical drama with trajectory, meat and message. Much of the language is rich and appealing. Unfortunately, this is barely discernible in a wrongheaded production. (The piece was first staged in London 1993)

Among a company of eight, perhaps two actors maintain focus, thinking when they’re not speaking:

Hamish Allan-Headley’s Pierce is straightforward, brooding and credibly low key. Emotion is so subtle, when the childlike Killaine jumps into his arms and a flicker of pleasure escapes, it shines.

Lauren Currie Lewis’s embodiment of Killaine arrives fully fleshed from rabbit-like awareness to lilting speech to palpable joy. The multifaceted actress also occupies a raw scene where her character has been broken in all senses of the word, with visceral pain and resignation.

Quinn Cassavale and Tessa Zugmeyer offer believable parentheses, but these quickly dissipate.

Where does one begin with a Director (Pamela Moller Kareman) who pins her actors’ arms stiffly to their sides when gestures would be natural, allows Robert to be so wooden he’s abstract, oversees actors conveying passionate speeches with hands in their pockets, and lays a newborn on the ground unattended while his parents converse? The only original direction is when, in an effort to get him to reconnect, Maddie literally drops her baby assuming Pierce will catch him. Oh, and climbing over a wall as entry and exit.

Jason Bolen’s Scenic Design is not at all evocative and counterproductive. The wall might work if it looked like a wall. Actors find themselves unnecessarily wary of stepping into recesses in a part of the floor supposedly indicating what-a stream?

Sound and Music by Designer Matt Stine seems arbitrary and often unrecognizable. Costumes by Kimberly Matela have no continuity. Maddie’s glittery top is completely out of place. Of creatives, only Dialect Coach Leah Gabriel seems to be serving the piece effectively.

Also featuring Ron Sims in multiple, small roles.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Lauren Currie Lewis on the wall overlooking Quinn Cassavale and Hamish Allan-Headley

Theater 808 presents
The Clearing by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Pamela Moller Kareman
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Through October 23, 2016

The Good Girl – A Misnomer


We once again find ourselves in the currently popular, grim, post-apocalyptic future. Anjali (Leah Gabriel) lives in a sterile, minimalist apartment, one among hundreds in a hive like edifice. She’s apparently never been outside. The building’s handyman, Ven (Giacomo Baessato), exits the bedroom with a drill, having finished repairs. He finds her baking. Both characters are dressed in today’s casual clothes, the drill is current as are the room’s appliances.

Ven is attracted, awkward. Anjali appears impervious. She insists he go back and check “sequence” again before leaving. He does and returns. From the bedroom, we hear electronic sounds, then a woman reaching orgasm and crying. “Isn’t that irregular?” Ven asks suspiciously. The female he’s been servicing is a sexbot, a robot prostitute for whom the tenant serves as madam.

GG 1

How could an android display such human feelings? It seems that when Anjali has strong emotions, the “girl” picks them up with some kind of osmosis. Tears bring more customers. The sexbot now says “don’t go,” afterwards. Men love it. As people no longer readily experience certain emotions, nor, it seems, physical human contact, thrill and novelty has business booming.

Ven can stop the aberration with one report. The tenant offers him a freebe with her bot. Instead, discovering that Anjali can cook, he blackmails her into feeding him a meal of real food every day – the implication being this no longer exists except perhaps among the upper class. It will, Ven thinks, give him a chance to “get to know” Anjali better. She grudgingly agrees.


Over the course of time, these two cross a bridge of personal contact, partially in order to imbue the sexbot with tendencies she could never ordinarily manifest. Clients increasingly request more dramatic/violent sessions. Anjali and Ven unwittingly create a Frankenstein.

It’s an interesting concept with particulars that will chill. Unfortunately, Playwright Emilie Collyer includes scenes she’s explained in her own mind, but not in narrative. There’s one in a bar bathroom with either two other characters or these two pretending or it’s a dream. Not a clue. In another, the two seem to have been drugged – leading us to falsely believe they’d been caught – wreacking havoc with real and false memories. In a third, domestic issues rise completely without context.

The ending is terrific, but there’s too much ambiguous writing between intriguing premise and imaginative resolution to make the play work.

Both actors take some time to warm up and then, through no fault of their own (Director-Adam Fitzgerald) scream their way through a good part of the proceedings. Surely this is not the only way to show anxiety, confusion, anger and fear. When they have something to get their teeth into, Gabriel and Baessato have good passages.

Photos by Lloyd Mulvey

Joyseekers Theatre presents
The Good Girl by Emilie Collyer
Directed by Adam Fitzgerald
Featuring Leah Gabriel & Giacomo Baessato
59E 59 Theaters   
59 East 59th Street
Through February 28, 2016