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.
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
59 East 59th Street
Through October 23, 2016