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Daughter Of The Waves

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Daughter Of The Waves.
Photo by Silvia Saponaro.

Daughter of the Waves, Eileen Connolly's richly layered and moving play about a ragtag band of circus acrobats, storytellers, singers and dancers set against the backdrop of World War II, is suffused with music—ranging from traditional Irish tunes to Hebrew melodies to popular songs of the era performed by the likes of Edith Piaf and Vera Lynn. Whether it is heard on the radio or sung by members of the strong ensemble, the music serves to shore up the spirits of the troopers, many of whom carry heavy burdens of suffering and loss.

The play, with a running time of just under two hours, is being offered on a limited production schedule as part of Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival. Taking place in Ireland in 1941, Daughter of the Waves is rendered in a series of short scenes through which the stories of the individual characters—many of them refugees from the war—come into focus.

The plight of refugees was a thorny issue for the government of the Republic of Ireland, which maintained official neutrality throughout the war and did not encourage the harboring of undocumented aliens. Here, it is Bryne (splendidly acted by Connie Rotunda), the proprietor of the family-owned circus, who serves as the protector of these "broken birds" and who will turn no one away. Byrne is determined to pull everyone through, and uses corny jokes and self-deprecation ("My life —just one big feckin' circus") to hold the demons at bay.

Byrne's bravery (she also serves as a coast watcher, on the lookout for suspicious activity) is echoed by that of the members of her troop, whether they are supporting each other, dealing with the horrors they fled, or even going into enemy territory to help the Resistance or to rescue another refugee. It is a real strength of the play that each of these courageous acts is presented without a lot of bombast, despite the always-present fear and underlying sadness.

The circus performances that accompany the play (Byrne keeps everyone busy rehearsing) include some excellent acrobatic work and the unfolding of a parallel story based on an Irish myth that takes on real-life significance as the play progresses. Ms. Connolly, who also serves as the director, along with dance choreographer Sean Roschman, aerial choreographer Megan Hornaday, and the entire company of actors, are to be commended for their top-notch work on bringing this memorable wartime story to life.

Daughter Of The Waves - part of Dream Up Festival!
Through September 5
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th & 10th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix

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