How things are in Glocca Morra
The Laugh of the Irish, performed by the Arden Players Teatro Paraguas Studio, March 13 Just in time to usher in St. Patrick’s Day, the only time many Americans even think about things Irish, the Arden Players present The Laugh of the Irish, a program of three Irish comedies. The plays — In the Shadow of the Glen by John M. Synge (author of Playboy of the Western World); The Dark Lady of the Sonnets by George Bernard Shaw, a play Irish by birthright more than subject matter; and The Matchmaker by John B. Keane (whose play The Field was made into a film by Jim Sheridan in 1990) — offered a real Irish smorgasbord. As comedy, the results were mixed.
Synge was a well-known figure of his day, and his plays about Irish peasant life created a literary genre that had not existed before. His use of “HibernoIrish” was a means for him to bridge the Gaelic language with English and created a wider audience for his work. Although In the Shadow of the Glen was once attacked as being “a slur on Irish womanhood,” what came across in the Arden Players production was something odder, quaint in its folksy roots but not particularly funny.
The story of a woman stuck in a rural cottage in an isolated glen had its charm, especially with the appearance of actor Kerry Kehoe, originally from County Kerry, who played the Tramp. The play was helped in great measure by the legitimate brogue offered by Kehoe, although his demeanor, down to the costuming, made him appear more a roguish passerby than a tramp. His charm was so exalted, compared to the acting and personae presented by Mary Woods and Argos MacCallum as Dan and Nora Burke, the feuding couple visited by this “tramp,” that the narrative was thrown out of balance. Having an even less experienced actor, Galen Hutchison, squirming in his costume and struggling to present himself as a randy Irish lad didn’t help. Still, as an example of actual Irish playwriting, it made for an interesting encounter in Santa Fe. Today, an American never could have gotten away with such stereotypical language or situations. It was the Irish equivalent of Dogpatch.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish by birth, made his mark in London and was not particularly interested in representing things Irish in his prolific writings. Indeed, The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, written in 1910, is a short play about Shakespeare and the “Dark Lady” character in his sonnets. Here, compared to the deliberately countrified language of the Synge play, is the highly fluent, playful, and brilliant writing of Shaw. Tad Jones, as Shakespeare, and Deborah Dennison, the “Cloaked Lady” Shakespeare mistakenly assumes to be his mistress, waiting in a dark corner for a tryst, offered humor of the more gallant and literate kind, and both performances were the most assured and skillful of the evening. As an example of Irish theater, the choice of this brief episode was a little odd, but as theater, it was the most successful part of the evening.
The Matchmaker by John B. Keane (first produced in 1975), is a contemporary portrayal of the same sort of rural Irish life as that portrayed in Synge’s play. Kehoe, as the Matchmaker, once again provides a charming center to the piece, which has more in common with a Neil Simon play than Synge’s rougher narrative. Presented as a series of letters read by a cast of marriage-hungry Irish who are seated on stage throughout, there was a deadening lack of drama and nary a moment of physical action. To watch the characters watch their scripts was, without a doubt, to witness the opposite of direction (attributed to Deborah Dennison). After 45 minutes, one wished the advent of e-mail had arrived before this play had ever been written.
— Michael Wade Simpson “The Laugh of the Irish” continues at Teatro Paraguas Studio, 3221 Richards Lane, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 19 and 20, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 21. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and students; for information, call 920-0303.