Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's reviews of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin and America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of the American Negro
The scene, some time ago, is in Ireland and the confines are rough hewn. The interior set shows walls of gray coarse wood. A table is well worn and an overloaded sink has clearly seen better days. Set designer John McDermott later turns to a different look, which includes, on a rear canvas, a lovely vista of farmland.
The play opens as Tony Reilly (Jeffrey DeMunn) engages in conversation with Aiofe Muldoon (Deborah Hedwall). Neither is in the best of health and they speculate about who will die first. Tony owns the family farm and wishes that his son Anthony (James McMenamin) would be more connected to the earth and thus a fitting successor. Tony muses that he might just leave the land to an American relative. The farm next door, so to speak, had been run by Chris Muldoon, Aiofe's recently deceased husband. Her daughter Rosemary (Shannon Marie Sullivan) tends to some of that land just now.
It seems that when Rosemary was six years old, Anthony pushed her down and she has neither forgotten nor forgiven him for the incident. Rosemary smokes a pipe or cigarettes and, when we first meet her, she is stubborn and boisterous. Call her unfriendly. She does learn that Tony might yield that farm to Anthony's cousin and this does not sit well with Rosemary.
Meanwhile, Anthony (introverted and cautious) never recovered from a relationship, years before, with a certain young woman. Anthony, perhaps curiously and perhaps not, seems to hear sounds when he is in the fields but is not always tuned in when humans speak to him. "I'm just more with nature ... than people," he says.
During many of their scenes, director Allen has chosen, when Anthony and Rosemary are speaking toward one another, to have them separatedsix feet apart. The question is whether that physical distance can be bridged. Moreover, the space between them is symptomatic of much more.
The early going banter, between veteran actors DeMunn and Hedwall, includes a fair portion of wry comedy. Shanley's back-and-forth is crisp and the performers, complete with appropriate accents, accommodate the dialogue with both delivery and facial expression. Later, the script turns in another direction as Rosemary and Anthony attempt to find something: themselves, peace, harmony and more.
Ultimately, it is a play of loneliness, sorrowful anticipation of imminent death, and potential love. Shanley does not rush. He allows for deliberate pacing and his expository section beautifully sets up a blossoming conclusion. It is not by chance that the author is the recipient of Pulitzer, Tony and Oscar awards. His script, as it transpires within the confines of the cozy Unicorn, unfolds by increments and this is all to the good.
Fans of TV's "Billions" will recognize Jeffrey DeMunn, who plays Chuck Rhoades, Sr. on that show. For some, Karen Allen's name will ring bells. A performer on stage for years, she might be best recalled for her work on the large screen which includes Raiders of The Lost Ark and Animal House.
Outside Mullingar, through July 13, 2019, Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge MA. For information and tickets, call 413-997-4444 or visit www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org.