BWW Review: Touring Production of THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS Complicated, Confusing but Enduring in Emotion
In a note included in the program for The Abbey Theatre's performance of "The Plough and the Stars," Diarmaid Ferriter, a professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin, provides an insightful explanation of the touring production.
"An abundance of archival material has been released in recent years ... What this process has amounted to is an invitation to complicate the narrative of 1916," Ferriter writes. "Such a complicated narrative is demanded by these sources."
There is no doubt that the narrative presented onstage in "The Plough and the Stars" is complicated.
Originally written by Seán O'Casey, the play, which presents an unflinching criticism of the 1916 Easter Rising, sparked riots when it was performed in Ireland in 1926. But in front of a crowd of mostly college students on Thursday evening, a reimagined version produced different sentiments -- mainly confusion, but ultimately, empathy.
Focusing on the plight of individuals and families living in Dublin during the violence of the Easter Rising, "The Plough and the Stars" follows a young couple, Jack (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) and Nora Clitheroe (Kate Stanley Brennan), as they are ripped apart by the bloodshed of rebellion.
A lively cast of characters living in tenements with the Clitheroes include The Young Covey, (Ciarán O'Brien) Jack Clitheroe's cousin and dedicated communist; Peter Flynn (James Hayes), Nora Clitheroe's uncle; neighbors Fluther Good (David Ganly) and Mrs. Gogan (Janet Moran); Bessie Burgess (Hilda Fay), another neighbor who laments that her son is away fighting for the British army; and Mollser (Rachel Gleeson), a young girl dying from tuberculosis whose constant presence on stage lends a sense of foreboding to every act.
The plot occurs during the years 1915 and 1916, but audience members will notice pops of modern details that appear onstage.
From the placement of an electric water heater next to Peter Flynn's gilded saber to the juxtaposition of Mrs. Gogan's blue jeans and Jack Clitheroe's Irish Citizen Army uniform, the four acts of the play unfold in a seemingly fluid time period.
As the set is changed between scenes, industrial fluorescent lights descend from the ceiling while rock music blares through the speakers -- not usually what one associates with early 20th-century Ireland in the midst of civil turmoil.
Generally, these attempts to modernize the play manifest as distracting anachronisms rather than additions that help the audience connect more fully to the characters.
Perhaps it's because the audience doesn't need these forced connections -- O'Casey's writing has the power to transcend temporal boundaries.
The instinctual need to protect those close to you, the intimate moments spent laughing with a lover and the petty annoyances that color familial relations are all experiences that are just as applicable to our lives today as they were 100 years ago.
These emotional connections are much stronger than any formed solely because of the appearance of modern appliances or attire, and are what will stay with viewers for days after the curtain closes.
"The Plough and the Stars" is set to be performed at the Southern Theatre from Oct. 26 to Oct. 30.
The performance is approximately 2 1/2 hours with a 20-minute intermission.
Tickets are available at the CAPA Ticket Center, located at 39 E. State St., as well as at all Ticketmaster outlets. To purchase tickets online, visit the Ticketmaster website. Tickets may also be purchased via phone by calling (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000.