Review: THE HUMOURS OF BANDON at The Atlas Performing Arts Center

A Solas Nua presentation

By: Jun. 03, 2023
Review: THE HUMOURS OF BANDON at The Atlas Performing Arts Center

High school drama teachers inevitably kvell when their former students turn Equity or win a Helen Hayes Award for the musical direction of a show at Olney. But a more significant point, eloquently made by playwright/actor/dancer Margaret McAuliffe in her one-woman The Humours of Bandon, is that high school students should have freedom and agency while they're competing in team and individual sports, or spelling bee, or competitive cheer, or debate, or the one act play tournament, or dressage, or chess, or Scrabble, or ultimate frisbee (is that a proper noun yet?). Stage mothers and soccer moms and dads don't help their youngsters grow and evolve when they add pressure to the already stressful world of auditioning for the high school musical, the annual show, or the pitching rotation. McAuliffe, herself previously a competitive Irish dancer before training as an actor at Dublin's Gaiety, not only knows this but shares it with kindness and wisdom and none of the pedantic intonations of one of the competition officials she portrays in this hour-long one act, proficiently directed by Stefanie Preissner.

The Humours of Bandon (it's the name of a jig tune often used by Irish dancers) tracks the evolution of Annie, a dancer competing for championships in the "under 17" group. Annie tells her own story and reveals the roller coastering thoughts and feelings that travel with her to the competitions along with ghillies, hard shoes, two pairs of black tights, costumes, nerves, and her wonderful mother. In addition to the abovementioned thematic clarity, McAuliffe's text also provides many more characters than Annie for McAuliffe to perform. Annie's mum--hairdresser, chauffeur, purveyor of burgers after the long days of competing--is a diamond: always interested, never intrusive, curious, attentive, and also able to back off. McAuliffe physicalizes the folks who run and coach the contests differently. They're Herders of Teenagers, with cattle prod voices and demanding body language. McAuliffe easily shifts from these middle aged people to several of her teenaged peers with light speed and vocal changes to match. And then there's the dancing.

At a later point in her story (when Annie has moved on to the "under 19" group), she declares that all she has is a niche skill. But sure and that's the secret of all art, certainly of cooking, definitely of baseball, and maybe of life itself. When McAuliffe's Annie dances with abandon her fierce thrilling and difficult, old style solo near the play's end, she proves Pirsig's theory that the real motorcycle you're working on is yourself. QED.

Solas Nua ("new light" in Irish) has imported this engrossing and entertaining piece for DC. It's won prizes in Dublin's Fringe, toured to Edinburgh's, and been off-Broadway under the ambitious auspices of Ireland's Fishamble (a new play company). The Humours of Bandon runs at the Atlas through June 11.

Photo Credit: Maria Falconer


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