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Sons of Molly Maguire
A Line in the Sand

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Sons of Molly Maguire

Can progress always be made without violence? Most of us would probably like to believe so. But effecting change through peaceful means is frequently harder, and more time-consuming, than routes involving weapons and explosions, which is why the latter while likely never be eradicated from humanity. However, onstage the opposite is frequently true: Particularizing a conflict with a well-placed gunshot, sword thrust, or ballroom brawl can establish in seconds what might take minutes in a spoken scene. The theatrical imperative addressing this is the playwright’s credo, “Show, don’t tell.” That’s been mostly ignored by John Kearns in his play Sons of Molly Maguire, which examines the Irish immigrant coal miners in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, in the 1860s and 1870s.

The men who risked (and often lost) their lives in the mines reportedly brought with them from Ireland the underground organization The Molly Maguires, which answered labor inequities with threats and death - even when their own necks were the price they had to pay. But though Kearns deals a bit with local leader Jack Kilbride (Michael Basile) and his father (J. Dolan Byrnes), who disagree over methods of redress, he dramatizes few specific struggles, focusing instead on the conversations, in public taverns and private homes, that put the Molly Maguires’ actions in a wider societal context. You learn more than you ever expected about the uneasy relationship between the Irish, English, Welsh, and American factions in the country during Reconstruction, but these revelations are mostly disconnected from the discontent ostensibly at the heart of the play. Director Candace O’Neil Cihocki is moderately successful at preventing the show from reaching the level of history-class filmstrip, but she generally faces an uphill battle.

Kearns’s use of poetry, songs, newspaper articles, and speeches to round out the 90-minute running time only further dilutes his subjects’ personalities, and is far less exciting live than it probably seems on paper. This is even more of a shame as the acting company is roundly excellent, providing highly watchable portrayals of diverse two-dimensional people who share the language of one-dimensional cliché. If the performers were given the tools to tap more succinctly into the humanity of the people they’re playing, Sons of Molly Maguire could be a deeply moving play about the inequalities inherent in the American dream. But as long as Kearns keeps his characters at arm’s length, it’s not possible for us to get much closer.


Sons of Molly Maguire
Through August 4
WorkShop Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor
Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix


A Line in the Sand

The Virginia Tech massacre three months ago was the deadliest school shooting in United States history, but the wounds left by the April 20, 1999 shooting at Columbine remain, perhaps, even more raw. The messages that shooting stirred up, about the nature of the teen experience and the effect it has on otherwise ordinary kids, resonate in a way few other modern tragedies have. So it’s not surprising the event continues to inspire playwrights to ask what happened, what it meant, and what we can learn from it - such investigations resulted in the superb play Columbinus last year at New York Theatre Workshop, and this year have produced an attractive if sedate entry at the Midtown International Theatre Festival: A Line in the Sand.

Written and performed by Adina Taubman and directed by Padraic Lillis, it’s strictly documentary theatre, transforming Taubman’s original interviews with Columbine survivors and onlookers into a sobering collection of questions, half-formed answers, and philosophy about the nature of youth and rights in America. Taubman delves into no unexpected areas - she touches on matters of gun control, psychology, and the impact of media and entertainment, to say nothing of humanizing the shooting’s oft-vilified perpetrators, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. But she invests her portrayals of the parents, friends, and other townsfolk with such cool, detailed finesse that you feel you’re gaining a fair amount of emotional insight even as you know you’re not learning anything new.

Taubman’s take is also a preach-free, journalistic one - she takes no sides on any issue, instead letting those who lived through it speak for themselves. This makes A Line in the Sand a serene and haunting tribute to the losses incurred, and gives new life to the students and adults who were permanently silenced that day. Taubman and Lillis sometimes overplay their hands, most notably in pre-recorded recitations of the poetry of victim Rachel Scott or of Harris and Klebold’s chilling plans for destruction. But Taubman’s affecting evening obviates the need for such outwardly manipulative inclusions: The collage she’s fashioned from all these subjective observances often feels more complete, and more real, than whatever the truth actually is.


A Line In The Sand
Through August 5
WorkShop Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix