Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

On Raftery's Hill

Boston's Súgán Theatre Company presents the New England premiere of Marina Carr's play On Raftery's Hillas the third and final offering of their 2002-2003 season. The run continues through April 19th at the BCA Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts where they are one of the resident companies.

This play, commissioned by director Garry Hynes for Ireland's Druid Theatre, was part of the Kennedy Center's Arts from Ireland festival three years ago. The Súgán (pronounced Sue Gone) Theatre was the first to present Carr's work in North America with their production of her Susan Smith Blackburn Award winning play Portia Coughlan in 1998.

This highly regarded company, now in its 11th season, is dedicated to contemporary Irish plays, presenting works by Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness as well as introducing emerging writers such are Carr, Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh.

Shawn Sturnick and Melinda Lopez
On Raftery's Hill is a dark, fetid tale of incest and madness. Susan Zeeman Rogers' set with its bare plank floor and backdrop of hills strewn with rotting animal carcasses is a fitting analogy for the general state of this midland farm family. Carr offers little explanation for the benign neglect Red Raftery (John Haag) has visited upon his hundreds of acres of presumably valuable farmland, but we do get hints about the reasons for the abuses he's heaped upon his children. The finger seems to be pointed at the mother figures: theirs, now deceased, who denied him her bed (and her children pretty much everything else) and his, still present in body if not in mind, who set no example for her daughter-in-law.

Grandmother Shalome, played like an aging fairy by Súgán's artistic director Carmel O'Reilly, packs her suitcase everyday, lugs it down the stairs and drags herself to the gate at the end of the lane. Someone always fetches her back, but not before she falls into the pig sty or tangles with a briar bush. Shalome is trying to run away to her father's house, though he's long gone, or into the arms of one of the romantic courtiers from her youth, who may have never existed at all.

Her grandchildren also dream of escape from Raftery's Hill. Grandson Ded (Shawn Sturnick) retreats into madness, seeking refuge from his father in the dung filled cattle shed. Dinah (Melinda Lopez), the older of the two girls by a generation, retreats into a complacency and resignation from which there is no turning back. Her dream is that Sorrel (Emily Knapp) whom she's looked after and protected for eighteen years will marry her intended and leave the hill for good.

The two outsiders, Dara Mood (Ciaran Crawford) who comes courting, and Isaac Dunn (John Morgan) who, but for Red, has no company other than his elderly cantankerous cat, offer a welcome respite. They also provide the clue that the farm could be turned around and made to produce something besides misery.

Director Eric Engel does the best he can, and the cast, too, rise to the occasion when called upon, particularly Knapp and Lopez. The events are eventful enough, but the telling of the tale lacks a poetry of place, of language and of idea. The presumption is that what's unfolding here is tragic and inevitable, underscored by Red's name checking the Greek gods in his own defense. If it were truly so, Carr wouldn't need to prompt us. The storytelling is all here, in two extremely well crafted acts, but the insights to lift it beyond supermarket tabloid headlines are missing.

On Raftery's Hill presented by The Súgán Theatre Company at the BCA Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street now through April 19th. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm and Saturday, April 19th at 4pm. For tickets visit the box office at Boston Center for the Arts or call (617) 426-2787. Tickets are also available (cash only) at "BosTix" in Copley Square or Faneuil Hall Marketplace. For additional information:

Special appearance: Playwright Marina Carr, author of On Raftery's Hill, will attend the Súgán Theatre production of On Raftery's Hill on Friday, April 11 and there will be a talkback with the audience after the performance.

Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Boston area.

- Suzanne Bixby

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