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Aisle Say On The Square: The Reclamation of Teresa Deevy by David Spencer

Aisle Say On The Square: The Reclamation of Teresa Deevy by David Spencer
Aidan Redmond, Ellen Adair

Aidan Redmond, Ellen Adair Photo by – Richard Termine

I want to be very careful in assessing The Suitcase Under the Bed, in honor of the place where undiscovered, unproduced plays by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy were found—some of which comprise the evening, which is part of their Teresa Deeve project, whose objective is the reclamation of her complete works and the restoration (arguably the overdue establishment) of her place as a world class dramatist.

Sarah Nicole Deaver, A.J. Shively

Sarah Nicole Deaver, A.J. Shively
Photo by – Richard Termine

I want to be careful because I haven’t seen the previous entries in this series, of which there were three, between 2010 and 2013 and I don’t have enough familiarity with Ms. Deevy’s work to have a valid overall sense of it; and because when a notable theatre company devotes significant resources to the resurrection of a career profile and a catalog, you have to owe that company the respect of knowing the playwright’s work almost as well as they do, before you make any blanket statements. And I don’t. Though in time, perhaps, I will: the Mint Theatre Company publishes the lost plays they produce, when they can, and with my press seats came a generous coupon granting me the two volume set of her œvre (conveniently and inevitably on sale in the lobby, not incidentally), titld Teresa Deevy Reclaimed.
A.J. Shively, Cynthia Mace

A.J. Shively, Cynthia Mace Photo- Richard Termine

And above all, I want to be careful because, based on the four well-produced, very competently directed and acted little plays on offer at the Mint’s current hone in the Theatre Row complex…I just didn’t see what they see.

Sarah Nicole Deaver, Colin Ryan

Sarah Nicole Deaver, Colin Ryan Photo by Richard Termine

But I’ll tell you what I did see, and again, I must limit this to the contents of the particular evening: the work of a playwright who unequivocally has a voice and a style uniquely hers. Who, in her one acts, is capable of diamond sharp little snapshots of the Irish society of her time; and who may well have been daring for her time, in presenting just that. But whose voice, style and observation seem nonetheless now more rooted to that time than transcendent. They exist within a frame of reference whose understanding of psychology goes no deeper than that era’s general perceptions. Thus she writes about the social contracts out of which relationships are formed and thwarted, released and suppressed, but without giving much energy to the sexual undercurrents that make romantic yearning visceral, or behavioral pathologies that go deeper than personality trope. Little dramas and comedies of manners.
Teresa Deevy
To capsule-describe the stories here would achieve little and perhaps spoil much, because they are the issuance and development of brushstrokes. Let’s just say that director Jonathan Bank has selected a quartet which represent a cross section of Irish society: middle class, farm class, upper class, working class. That his ensemble of seven personable players—Ellen Adair, Gina Costigan, Sarah Nicole Deaver, Cynthia Mace, Aidan Redmond, Colin Ryan and A.J. Shively—demonstrate a fitting versatility and kinship with the tone of the plays (thanks to cleverly subtle costuming by Andrea Varga, even seeming like more than their modest number); and that despite an impression of light fare, the differences between Irish and American society evoke a mild exotica (that’s not faint praise; the effect and its understatedness is welcome and not easy to achieve). So will you find it worth the visit…even if only as an investment in a more cumulative familiarity with Ms. Deevy’s work to come? Perhaps.
I’ll add but one thing more, though. Before writing this review, I read the four plays—Strange Birth, In the Cellar of My Friend, Holiday House and The King of Spain’s Daughter—as well as Mr. Banks’s feelings about them and about doing his best to honor Ms. Deevy’s vision. And I think one of two things may be true: If my assessment here is correct, Ms. Deevy’s work is, at least with these four, more effective on the page than it is on the stage (not an unknown phenomenon; sometime we’ll discuss Herb Gardner’s brilliantly readable The Goodbye People, which closed on Broadway opening night not once, but twice); or Mr. Bank, despite doing an eminently credible job, isn’t digging deeply enough with his actors. I can see where just maybe, Ms. Deevy’s work can be, without violating its tone or verisimilitude, in those things I missed, that may be only unspoken, a little bit dangerous.
And I wonder if there mightn’t be more of that next time.

Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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