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Woman and Scarecrow
Desert Rose Playhouse

also see Rob's review of Is Life Worth Living? An Irish Comedy

Woman and Scarecrow
Bridget S. Dunn and
Christy Lopez

This is the kind of play in which the characters are called Woman, Scarecrow, Him, and Auntie Ah. You can probably tell from this first sentence that I didn't care for Woman and Scarecrow, a 2006 work by the Irish playwright Marina Carr. I can guess at some of the reasons why director Georgia Athearn might have chosen this play as the Desert Rose Playhouse's contribution to the Southwest Irish Theater Festival: it's a play about women written by a woman; it has a single set with minimal scenery, costumes and props; it has a cast of only four; it's about something important—dying; and it appears to be poetic and profound. I don't know if any production can make it actually poetic and profound, but this one didn't do it for me.

The play is about a woman dying, and might take place in real time—the last two hours of her life. We are never told what she is dying of. She is apparently fifty years old, has had eight children and one miscarriage or stillbirth, and is married to a philandering husband who has trouble remembering his own children's names. She is more than a baby factory. She appears to be quite cultured, mentioning a Caravaggio in the Louvre and the "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's opera Rusalka and a few other unexpected highbrow references (although being a fan of the Greek singer Demis Roussos is apparently pretty bourgeois by Irish standards). She occasionally lapses into brief poetic monologues ("russet hair" and that kind of stuff).

The majority of the play is a dialogue between this dying woman and Scarecrow. Who or what exactly is Scarecrow? I'm still not sure. Scarecrow (a female figure) says that she has been with Woman since they left the Weaver's throne (i.e., since Woman was born). I don't know if this is Irish mythology or something the author made up. Is Scarecrow the woman's soul, her subconscious, her alter ego, her spiritual interlocutor, her will to live, her will to power, her regret and vindictiveness personified, a hallucination, a force that keeps death (a crow-like figure) away, or death itself? Some might say that this indefiniteness makes the symbolism more rich and resonant. I say it makes it muddled.

Scarecrow urges the woman to put death off as long as possible. Woman does some reminiscing about her life and loves and her mother's early death and being shunted off to Auntie Ah, but much of what the woman does with her final minutes (at Scarecrow's prompting) is castigate her husband for his cheating and reveal that she has cheated on him too. No forgiveness for these two. That's about it for the storyline. I did enjoy the last couple minutes of the play, but that was because the beautiful "Song to the Moon" plays in the background, and one could imagine the snow falling "on all the living and the dead" (as at the end of James Joyce's story).

Bridget Dunne as the woman is very good. She is quite thin, and looks the part (I hope this is not taken as an insult). She never leaves the stage and spends almost all of her time in a bed, but is always interesting. Her Irish accent sounded natural to me.

Scarecrow is played by Christy Lopez, and this is another story entirely. She is the opposite body type from Bridget, which is appropriate, I guess, since they are sometimes antagonists, and her Irish accent sounded good to me too. But she is way over the top, way too loud, all gasps and gesticulations, bulging eyes and bobbling breasts. (For some reason, her costume is a black negligee-like dress that overemphasizes her ample bosom—not the typical scarecrow, for sure. Her makeup doesn't help either. By the end, she's more than halfway to being Heath Ledger's Joker.) There are people who appreciate this kind of acting, but it wore me out after about five minutes.

On the other hand, I wish Stephen Zamora had done a little more acting as the husband. He's pretty wooden, and his attempt at an accent is as feeble as could be. Cyndy Noll, however, maintains her dignity as Auntie Ah, a woman who appears kind and caring but can be malevolent in quiet ways.

So, two good performances, two not-so-good performances. A really good play can usually outweigh the faults of a particular production, but I'm afraid that in this case, the balance tips toward the negative.

Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr is being performed at The Desert Rose Playhouse, 6921 Montgomery NE (at Louisiana), through April 8, 2012. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $12 general, $10 seniors and students. For reservations, call 505-881-0503.

Photo: Rose Provan

--Dean Yannias



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