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The Scourge

Theatre Review by David Hurst - January 23, 2020

Michelle Dooley Mahon
Photo by Carol Rosegg
When you're asked to review a one-person show about a woman coping with the long-term effects of watching her mother die a slow, agonizing death from Alzheimer's disease, an understandable response might be to say you're over-scheduled and don't have time to see it. After all, one-person shows tend to be self-indulgent and a monologue about watching your mother die isn't going to have any tap numbers in it. In the case of The Scourge, however, written and performed by Michelle Dooley Mahon and making its U.S. premiere at The Irish Repertory Theatre, not making time to see it would be a serious mistake. A deeply moving testament to the power of emotional resilience, The Scourge is a captivating tribute to the human spirit, and Mahon is an international treasure.

The most common definition of scourge people will know today is "a person or thing that causes great trouble or suffering." So, of course, in the context of Mahon's story, Alzheimer's disease is obviously, and very definitely, a scourge. The irony, however, is that throughout the piece Mahon refers to herself as a scourge. As her monologue unfolds, the reason for this becomes clear: Mahon is a troublemaker of the first order and doesn't suffer fools gladly. Whip-smart with a sly sense of humor, she would be right at home at any dinner party and there's no doubt she would know exactly what to do if you had a body of which you needed to dispose.

But Alzheimer's disease and the slow, cruel loss of her beloved mother Siobhan, knocks Mahon down for the count and it takes years, seven years to be exact, for her to fight her way back to the human race. In the 85-minute The Scourge, her laser-like observations about the healthcare system, long-term disability facilities, and her families response to their mother's illness have a biting poignancy which are distilled through Mahon's own life-tested personality.

Simply directed by Ben Barnes, the former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, The Scourge and Mahon benefit tremendously from the intimacy of the Irish Rep's W. Scott McLucas Studio space. Mahon's voice seldom rises above a mezzo forte and she frequently delivers entire passages in a voice barely louder than a whisper. But she doesn't need volume to make her point. It's with her words that she heals herself and, by extension, she heals us too.

The Scourge
Through February 2, 2020
Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: