Spitfire Irish playwright Teresa Deevy (1894-1963) didn’t have it so easy. She was struck deaf before she ever started writing professionally, and then, after a brief rise to acclaim, her work was struck down by Irish censorship laws. Her scripts, stashed in her native Waterford “in a green suitcase under the bed in the spare room,” were only recently unearthed by Jonathan Bank at New York’s Mint Theater, and quickly snapped up by local Ire-o-phile, dialect coach, and director Mary “Mac” McDonald-Lewis for a short run with Readers Theatre Repertory, an undersung gem of the staged reading format since 2001.
Last night and tonight – Saturday, March 22 – at Blackfish Gallery, RTR hosts The Belle of Waterford: Discovering Teresa Deevy, a flight of three blocked, rehearsed staged readings: Holiday House, Strange Birth, and In Search of Valour. While each has a distinct flavor, the three do present a through-theme: bravery — not in its oft-lauded applications in business or battle, but in its subtler, social contexts; the bravery to face someone you’d rather shun, or to make romantic overtures and risk rejection.
High-strung Hetty Mackey (Megan Skye Hale) and her warm, easygoing mother (Chrisse Roccaro) prepare a summer home for a potentially tense month-long family reunion. Doris (Sarah Hennessy), her sister-in-law by way of her brother Neil (Josh Weinstein), was originally engaged to her other brother, Derek (Ted deChatelet), and the pair haven’t spoken since the switch. Meanwhile, Derek’s rebound wife Jil (Foss Curtis) will also vacation with the group. Doris, furtive and regretful, wants Derek back. Neil, a bit of a dandy, has detached his affections and fallen “in love with his car.” Jil is catty and defensive toward Doris, whom she sees (rightly?) as a threat, and she’s clingy and resentful of her husband Derek for putting her in this situation. Derek, meanwhile, is playing it cool, lightly ribbing his ex and waving off his wife’s concerns. But a partner switch is thickly foreshadowed….
A pragmatic, bright receptionist and mail handler for a small boarding house, Sarah Meade (Curtis) knows everyone’s business. She knows that Mrs. Taylor (Chris Sheilds) is expecting a visit from her long-lost son, that Mr. Bassett (Weinstein) is depressed that he hasn’t heard from his would-be sweetheart, that Mrs. Stims (Rocarro) has two new letters … the contents of which she’s suddenly snappy about, despite having confided in Sarah in the past (so it must be bad news). Though intimately acquainted with others’ affairs, Sarah is apparently alienated from her own, failing to consciously process her obvious crush on the postman, Bill Carowyn (Thomas Slater), until he presents her with a letter addressed to “Mrs. Carowyn,” referencing his wish to marry her. She balks: “All the people in this house are sufferin’ because of love.” But the newly ebullient Mrs. Taylor begs to differ: “Life is worth livin’ in contrast”—meaning painful moments are justified by joyful ones.
In Search of Valor
Young domestic Ellie Irwin (Lissie Huff) is exhausted by the dull company of her pious mistress Mrs. Maher (Roccaro), and entertains herself with escapist fantasies spun from a local parish production of Coriolanis. She dreams not only of epic battles from the Shakespeare story, but also of the storied life of the play’s lead actress, a Miss Carlotta Berk, who went on to a brief stint on the London stage, then ended her life by drinking poison. So taken is Ellie with this story, she extends her worship to Berk’s surviving family, the Glitterons, and presses their maid Stasia (Shields) for thrilling details about their private lives. Meanwhile, as rumors swirl of a madman on the loose, Jack the Scalp, Ellie secretly roots for him; even a violent attack may relieve her of boredom. The Glitterons (Hennessy and deChatelet) eventually come looking for their maid, and upon meeting them, Ellie is bitterly underwhelmed by how normal and cowardly they seem. Even when Jack the Scalp (Weinstein) does happen to invade the home, he fails to live up to Ellie’s dreams of a brave renegade. After chasing him away, she exclaims, “There is no man livin’ now. Small wonder a woman would take poison.”
Which came first — Deevy’s disdain for characters who can’t take the heat, or her censors’ rulings that her scripts were too hot for the stage? Either way, an argument was waged, and Deevy’s plays and potential audiences were the short-term losers. Fortunately, good literature outlives both its writers and its censors, and calls for bravery ring true in any age.
RTR’s next event after this evening’s reading at Blackfish Gallery will be April’s “Zell-stock,” featuring the works of Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom playwright David Zellnik. The company also has a few Deevy anthologies available for sale ($15).
A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’ for The Portland Mercury, and is former arts editor of Portland Monthly magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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