BWW Review: ECLIPSED Uses Recent History to Warn About the Dangers of Blind Obedience, at Corrib Theatre
The Magdalene Laundries sound like they should be something out of the distant past -- places where young women in Ireland were effectively enslaved by the Catholic church while the government and, often, their families looked the other way. In some cases, it was their families who put them there -- because they were pregnant, or too independent, or sometimes just too pretty.
But this is not the distant past. It's recent history -- the last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996, four years after Patricia Burke Brogan's play ECLIPSED was published. As a novice in the Catholic church, Brogan worked at one of these laundries. The play, which is now running at Corrib Theatre, shines a light on this dark piece of history. It also provides a non-subtle warning about the dangers of blind obedience to any authority, whether religious or secular.
ECLIPSED tells the stories of of seven women -- five "penitents" who work in a Magdalene Laundry and two nuns who run it. All but one of the penitents were sent to the laundry because they got pregnant out of wedlock; a few were checked in by their own families. There's Mandy (Dainichia Noreault), who loves Elvis and has an ever-weakening grip on reality; Brigit (Lucy Paschall), who keeps hope alive by constantly stoking her anger; Cathy (Sasha Belle Neufeld), who repeatedly escapes, only to be brought back; Juliet (Wynee Hu), an orphan and second-generation Magdalene Laundry prisoner; and Nellie-Nora (Jamie M. Rea), who tries to block out her personal demons by being a mother figure to the others.
The show is full of Great Performances, with the best coming from the actors who play the two nuns. Lorraine Bahr plays the terrifying Mother Victoria, a nun who has accepted the idea that the women are being imprisoned for their own good hook, line, and sinker, and who demands blind obedience from Sister Virginia, a novice played by Victoria Alvarez-Chacon. The most stirring scene involves Sister Virginia having a crisis of faith as she seeks to reconcile her beliefs with what's happening to the women under her care. The most terrifying is when Mother Victoria brings down the hammer on the idea that the church might, in this instance, be wrong.
ECLIPSED doesn't always live up to its emotional potential. The pace occasionally drags, and, while Kyra Sanford's set design provides plenty of scope for imaginative lighting effects, the performance space (New Expressive Works) is too expansive to convey a sense of being trapped. But the performances are strong and the material is highly relevant for our national conversations around reproductive rights and the fate of "unwanted" people in our society. Only by acknowledging this history do we have a chance to escape repeating it.
ECLIPSED runs through October 13. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Adam Liberman