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BWW Review: IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELDS at Solas Nua

A recent Irish play

BWW Review: IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELDS at Solas Nua

Solas Nua produces a recent Irish play

It doesn't get more site-specific than this, people: Solas Nua's doing a play called In the Middle of the Fields in the middle of a field! Starring as the field, P Street Beach; who knew she's been waiting for her close-up as a legit house all this time?

This US Premiere and new adaptation of Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan's play looks at the topic of breast cancer survival, important for all, including those who might have just stopped reading. Don't and go. The tautly built, one hour play tackles its subject through the pre-, during, and perhaps post-cancer experience of protagonist, Eithne. She undergoes, along with a mastectomy and a rugged regimen of chemotherapy, many stages of surviving cancer. These stages are not as neatly ordered as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' arrangement of the stages around dying, but surviving breast cancer beats the hell out of dying, and it's on the increase because breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Kinahan's stages can be messy, complicated, scary, gruelling, and even uplifting, so it often makes Eithne angry. But surviving breast cancer also reveals a splendid, brave way for her and for all survivors to carry on with life. Jessica Lefkow's portrayal of Eithne captures all these shifts and changes, turns and twists.

Whether Eithne is making small talk with her fellow patients in the chemo chairs, raging furiously at her husband's denial of her situation, or recalling her daughter's childhood and her father's elder years, Lefkow endows Eithne with emotional authenticity. Eithne's son sends her a T-shirt which reads, "Cancer picked the wrong bitch." That's as may be, but Solas Nua has picked the right actor for this demanding role which requires choices as complex and variegated as the solo part of the Beethoven violin concerto; Lefkow has a skill set for every passage, any tempo, all dynamics. She really knows the score.

Accompanying Lefkow, Ryan Sellers and Caroline Dubberly each play several characters, and they also serve as Kabuki stage hands wrangling the spare but elegant production design by director Laley Lippard and Rex Daugherty. Dubberly particularly shines as Maisie, one of Eithne's fellow patients whose small talk during chemo is actually not small at all; Maisie calms Eithne. Sellers is a hoot as fellow patient Mary Ann. As Denis, the volunteer who drives Eithne home after chemo, he provides the warmth and support to which cancer survivors are entitled; then as Sean, Eithne's farmer husband, Sellers nails the emotional shortfall and stunted imagination that drives Eithne to cry out how much Sean has failed her.

The warp of Kinahan's episodic script realistically depicts the inner life and outer journey of a breast cancer survivor. Its woof interrupts the realism with knee plays or interludes which use non-realism to enrich what the audience perceives about Eithne. The choreographic elements of these interludes don't succeed as well as the sound plot does. Tosin Olufolabi and Gordon Nimmo-Smith have crafted a Helen Hayes Award-worthy sound design that moves inside and outside of Eithne's head as well as straight into the audience's via some dandy headphones. We hear the ducks and the brook on Eithne's farm in Cavan and the horrible noise the chemo equipment makes; we hear "Sweet Caroline" in the Dublin pub where Sean met Eithne; and we hear Debussy at the lake where Denis and Eithne pause on the drive home. We hear indefinable sounds underlining Eithne's emotions, and we hear absolutely every word of dialogue because the designers prefer to buck the current "loud is good/louder is better" trend afflicting American theatres. (You know who you are, and the Kennedy Center came too.)

Marianne Meadows lights the production with 11 instruments and plenty of colors-lovely blue trees at the lake and a deathly green wash when Eithne's having a fearful moment.

Solas Nua wants audiences to know about Nueva Vida (https://www.nueva-vida.org/about) which supports Latina cancer survivors in the DC area; Living Beyond Breast Cancer (https://www.lbbc.org/get-support/additional-resources) is one of many other groups that provide services and information. Ladies, schedule those mammograms and do your self-exams. Gentlemen, males can also be diagnosed with breast cancer (just google the late Senator Edward Brooke). If you see (or feel) something, say something.

In the Middle of the Fields runs through June 12; tickets are available at https://www.solasnua.org/events/middle-fields

(Photography by Better Together Media)



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