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The Suitcase Under the Bed

Theatre Review by Michael Portantiere - August 24, 2017

Colin Ryan and Sarah Nicole Deaver
Photo by Richard Termine

In Michael Moore's Broadway show, he makes the powerful point that a single person can effect tremendous change for the better in our world, and he gives several examples. Looking at the Mint Theater Company's efforts on behalf of Teresa Deevy, it can also be said without doubt that one company, through its productions, can have a hugely positive effect on the reputation of a playwright—even if, in this case, that playwright is long deceased.

Deevy (1894-1963) managed to make a name for herself as a dramatist in Ireland despite the twin challenges of (1) being a woman in what was then largely perceived as a man's field (in a man's world), and (2) having become deaf by the age of 20, as a result of Meniere's disease. Beginning in 1930, several of her plays were very well received when presented by the Abbey, Ireland's national theater, but she had a falling out with that prestigious company in 1938. She then wrote a number of radio plays, but her work eventually fell into obscurity in her homeland and, for decades, remained virtually unproduced and unknown in America until the Mint began to bring her back into the spotlight with its critically lauded staging of Wife to James Whelan in 2010, followed by Temporal Powers in 2011 and Katie Roche in 2013.

The company is now offering an evening of four short plays by Deevy under the apt collective title The Suitcase Under the Bed—a literal reference to the suitcase where she stored her manuscripts. "Strange Birth" concerns a pretty, young domestic (Ellen Adair) pursued by an amorous postman (Aidan Redmond). "In the Cellar of My Friend" is about a girl (Sarah Nicole Deaver) who hopes to marry a boy whom she has known since childhood (A.J. Shively), but who instead receives a marriage proposal from the lad's father (Colin Ryan). In "Holiday House," an extended family gathers for a month-long vacation by the sea—among them two married couples (Ryan, Gina Costigan, Aidan Redmond, and Ellen Adair) whose shared history would provide enough plot fodder for a play four times as long. And in "The King of Spain's Daughter"—the only play of these four to have ever been previously produced, by the Abbey in 1935—an unruly, troubled young woman (Deaver) considers marriage to a laborer (Shively) largely as a means to escape her current existence and the abuse of her brutish dad (Redmond), while a garrulous old neighbor lady (Cynthia Mace) offers commentary on the situation.

These seven actors play a total of 22 roles during the course of evening, each performance beautifully etched and well delineated. Deaver's sweet, longing young thing in the second play is a creature very different from the willful force of nature she plays in the final one, and the Aidan Redmond we see as the abusive dad is barely recognizable as the same actor we saw in the role of the besotted postman. Costigan, for her part, makes quite a transformation from a bitter, dowdy loner in "Strange Birth" to a self-possessed, perfectly-done-up wife in "Holiday House." Adair, Mace, Ryan, and Shively similarly display their versatility throughout, even to the extent of adopting slightly different accents for their various characters.

Deevy's writing consistently displays a wonderful facility for dialogue—remarkable, considering her early-age deafness—and an ability to get under the skin of her characters, along with the intermittent liability that some of her plot devices and situations strain credulity to the breaking point. "In the Cellar of My Friend" offers a few glaring examples, including a whopper of a misunderstanding and the forced withholding of a major piece of information until the final moments. It's an odd little play, for sure—but, arguably, all the more interesting for that reason.

With the help of Zach Blane's sensitive lighting,Vicki R. Davis's attractive sets for The Suitcase Under the Bed bring us into three different types of dwellings and, finally, to a construction site along a grassy road. Andrea Varga's costumes range from simple, working-class clothes to far dressier duds, the latter especially in "Holiday House."

Jonathan Bank, the Mint's artistic director, has helped the actors achieve jewel-like performances, and his blocking is skillfully economic. But his most worthy achievement here may have been pulling these plays out of that suitcase to begin with, getting them up on stage, then going the extra mile and publishing them—along with every other work mentioned in this review—in two volumes titled Teresa Deevy Reclaimed. Another very apt title.

The Suitcase Under the Bed
Through September 30
Mint Theater Company at the Beckett Theater, 410 West 42nd between 9th & 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge