BWW Review: THE BATTLES OF RICHMOND HILL Plays a Serious Drinking Game at HERE
In real estate, location is everything. Merry Christmas from Queens, New York, where strong spirits are afoot in The Dublin Rose. Alcohol pours generously, a ghost roams freely, and matriarch Sheila O'Connor works hard to thwart an effort to relocate her from her home in New York to a "supervised adult residence" in New Jersey. Sheila holds her liquor well enough until the weight of her family's history nearly causes her to lose her grip.
Playwright Penny Jackson packs generations of family drama into this one-act 90-minute "jukebox" play, which has some memorable moments, lots of laughs, but an all-too-familiar feel where love, loss and liquor seep into every scene of Irish turmoil.
Nora Chester shines as Sheila, a grandma with more grit than grace. The pub and its patrons are her second home and family--until her real family intervenes. First there's Brian (Jordan Ahnquist), Sheila's type-A grandson who shows up as a winter storm bears down. Brian's career trajectory is to become a doctor, and his impatience with this particular patient has reached its breaking point: his beloved but befuddled Granny has gone MIA the night of their scheduled journey across the river.
Brian: "Do you think this is a joke? I'm trying to save your life!"
Sheila: "I didn't ask you to save my life, did I?"
Sheila demands to see the suitcase that he brought on her behalf. It practically explodes (as does she, emotionally) as she unpacks it item by item -- much like the plot compartmentalizes Sheila's life, one deliberate detail after another: alcoholism, Alzheimer's, and a drug-addicted daughter (hauntingly played by lindsay Ryan) are all here. The fractured relationship between mother and daughter epitomizes the best and worst of the limits of tough love. In this tidy play, there seems to be a stomach for the happy drunk but not the depressive addict.
Adding some light to the darkness is Alexi Negretsky, a suave poet and Xerox repairman (the comically charming Alan Safier) who works to woo Sheila with bravado, booze, and on-brand compliments: "She's a spirited woman, my Sheila Smirnoff." Who knew Russian meddling could be so sexy?
Not so fast, Alexi; overseeing Alexi's overtures is Sheila's widower, Frank O'Connor (the Sinatra-esque Kevin Gilmartin), who has "conversations" with his widow. He imparts bits o' wisdom as each battle brews, reminding her that his love for her endures across time.
Director Kathy Gail MacGowan and David Goldstein (Scenic Design) create a cozy pub-as-persona for Battles; the audience is seated on two sides as the action unfurls up and down the center. And perhaps that's the allure of pub culture onstage: so much can happen in what bartender/referee Sean Macguire (Mac Brydon) calls "the heat of the drink": secrets are revealed, boundaries are set and transgressed, familial roles are reversed, fistfights erupt. For Sheila, her tried-and-true tactics of denial and deflection eventually stop working. It's closing time at The Dublin Rose, and when she screams "I am not fine!", no one argues.