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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 14, 2023

Andrew Bennett and Janet Moran
Photo by Ste Murray
Parallel midlife crises fueled by booze and an assortment of other superego suppressants feed the literate, comic, poignant, splendidly performed and altogether engaging series of alternating monologues that make up Eugene O'Brien's Heaven, a production of Fishamble: The New Play Company opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters as part of Origin Theatre's 1st Irish Festival.

Meet Mairead (Janet Moran) and Mal (Andrew Bennett), both in their early fifties and 20 years into a marriage marked less by passion than by a commitment to a reliable if unexciting life that looks like, as Mal puts it, "ye get a job ye hate, marry someone ye fell over at the local disco, and, boom, kids and middle age." Mal is half-joking when he says it, but between his button-down steady calmness and Mairead's unfiltered bull-in-a-china-shop approach to things, they seem to have managed a delicate balancing act for two decades.

That balance is put to the test when they arrive in town to attend the wedding of Mairead's sister. That's where Heaven takes place, and where Mairead's minimal inhibitions and Mal's tightlytethered ones separately burst forth. Apparently you can go home again, and you may even find what you believe you've been missing.

To say any more about the details would pile on the spoilers. In any event, the theatricality of Heaven lies in the beauty of its writing and in the performances by its two actors. Through this combination, under Jim Culleton's rock-solid direction, the small stage and Zia Bergin-Holly's simple set design (the outside of a church, a stool, a chair) seem to fill up with the wedding party and guests who are so well-described that they are as much a part of the play as Mairead and Mal. Equally important to the design is Sinéad McKenna's lighting, which highlights the separateness of the two characters as they take turns telling their own stories, ones they are willing to share with us if not with each other.

Plays where the characters never actually interact are extremely difficult to pull off effectively without becoming mere narrative storytelling. Thanks to a grand collaboration among playwright, performers, director, and design team, Heaven, running 90 minutes without an intermission, succeeds beautifully in bringing its story fully to life.

Through January 29, 2023
Fishamble: The New Play Company
59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: