BWW Review: Longing for an heir to the throne in KING OF THE CASTLE
In the 1930s, as part of the Harvard Irish Study in Ireland, American sociologists performed field studies on the life and work of an Irish community.
The published text - The Irish Countryman - chronicled an overwhelming patriarchal society where economic motivations strongly shaped the choice of marriage partner, and the expectation of an heir was central.
A classic of anthropology, the account charted social conditions that had changed little since the Victorian period.
Eugene McCabe's King of the Castle is set in the Ireland of the late 1950s, but its protagonist, Scober McAdam, psychically belongs to the world evoked by the American sociologists.
Painfully recognizable, Scober might well have wandered in from the 19th century and seems like the part of the family who remained in Ireland when James Tyrone's father - from Long Day's Journey into Night - emigrated to the US.
Scarred by the poverty of his childhood, Scober has transformed himself into a Catholic 'aristocrat' by acquiring the Big House - the estate house once owned by the Protestant landlord.
Scober is married to 29-year-old Tressa, who is 30 years his junior. When their childless marriage becomes the source of local gossip, Scober lunges towards a desperate strategy to produce an heir that threatens to destroy him and his marriage.
Premiered in 1964, King of the Castle is a stark exploration of inheritance, home, and the legacy of Ireland's post-Famine mindset, and McCabe's unsettling, overlooked script is imaginatively revived in Druid Theatre's production.
While Seán McGinley conveys the insecurities raging underneath Scober's poker-faced façade and spotlights his character's torment when confronted with the brittleness of his marriage, the actor doesn't convincingly embody Scober's fearsome menace.
In the underwritten part of Tressa, Seána Kerslake gives a slightly muted performance but captures Tressa's inner steeliness and effectively reveals why she fell in love with Scober.
Ryan Donaldson credibly balances his character's mix of revulsion and temptation as he reluctantly participates in Scober's unhinged plan, while Marty Rea is a slithering presence who effortlessly needles the besieged husband and wife.
Garry Hynes's pacing is a little uneven in the opening scenes, but the director subsequently injects the production with an unnerving tautness and delivers a devastating tableau near its close.
This production unfolds on Francis O'Connor's huge, spellbinding warehouse set. The backdrop of ropes and pulleys that thresh the corn harvested from Scober's land persist during the play's domestic scenes.
If that machinery anticipates an innately conservative society's slow modernization, its domination of the action here, where it is often eerily backlit, lends this production an appropriately Gothic sensibility.
Photo credit: Robbie Jack