Rachel Pickup phtos Carol
Irish-English strife are compacted into one day in Brian Friel’s drama, The
Home Place, and the Irish playwright’s sympathies extend to both sides of
the fray. It makes for an absorbing if somewhat tempered look into the
destructive nature of colonization and political repression, felt by the
oppressors as well as their victims.
receiving its New York premiere in an admirable production by the Irish
Repertory Theatre, the 2005 play is the next to last to be written by the
celebrated dramatist, who died in 2015 after a long illness. (His last was an
adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.) His canon includes such acclaimed
titles as Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Translations and Dancing
Home Place shows the
hand of a master writer able to synthesize themes and ideas into his characters
and still keep them compelling human beings.
Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, and Stephen Pilkington
takes place near Ballybeg, the fictional Donegal County town featured in
several of Friel’s works. The time is 1878, and the setting is The Lodge, the
home of the English land owner, Christopher Gore, a man who has attempted to be
a benevolent sire to his tenants. Living with him is his rather ineffectual son,
David, and their comely housekeeper, Margaret. Both men are in love with her,
setting up a romantic conflict.
underlying conflict of the play is the tension between the Anglo landowners and
their tenants, with a spirit of Irish rebellion taking hold. A boorish and
tyrannical neighboring English landlord has recently been murdered, and the
threat of further violence is in the air. Christopher fears he is on a “list.”
tension is heightened by the presence of Christopher’s houseguest, his cousin
Richard, an anthropologist engaged in studying racial characteristics of the
various strains of the Irish, taking physical measurements which he assumes
will define their inferiority. A couple of locals have shown up to be measured
– an impoverished widow hoping to receive “a few coppers” for her service and a
high-spirited barefoot lad.
Richard’s officious assistant Perkins explains how the measurements will be
taken, it’s a chilling foretaste of a facet of the Holocaust and of
contemporary racism as well. However, the measurements are halted by the
arrival of a local leader of the Irish, recognizing their offensiveness and
threatening mayhem if they continue. Christopher -- debilitated and shattered
-- is forced to ask his imperious cousin to leave.
final scene, Christopher’s spirit is further crushed when Margaret avoids his
proposal of marriage. A man who still refers to the English countryside of Kent
as “the home place,” he reflects tellingly on his life as a landowner outlier
in Ireland. “[I] believed I could do things differently. I would be the good
landlord as well as being the good neighbor and the friend-in-need when the
need arose. Fell flat on my face, didn’t I?”
production has been astutely directed by Irish Repertory’s co-founder and
artistic director Charlotte Moore. While it never quite explodes into
gut-punching high drama, it maintains a solid hold on audience interest, with
well-delineated characterizations and well-measured pacing.
Windsor-Cunningham captures totally the conflicting sides of Christopher in a
sympathetic rendering, and Rachel Pickup makes understandable the hold Margaret
has on both Christopher and David, the latter affectingly limned by Ed Malone.
Randolph as the anthropologist Richard and Stephen Pilkington as his assistant
almost inspire hisses as they go about their cruel measurements and expound on
Richard’s hideous “scientific” theories of race and behavior.
turn is provided by Robert Langdon Lloyd as Margaret’s father, a loquacious
school master, made even more loquacious by drink. He is also the leader of the
town’s children’s choir, and their music plays an important role in Friel’s
depiction of the Irish soul.
others in the 11-person cast, Johnny Hopkins exudes righteous menace as the
leader of the town’s rebels. Andrea Lynn Green also scores as the Gores’
warm-hearted and saucy housemaid, and more nicely done helpings of brogue come
from Polly McKie and Logan Riley Bruner as the locals who have come to be
measured. Gordon Tashjian completes the company as Hopkins’ quietly imposing
rich-looking set design by James Noone smartly defines both exterior and
interior segments of the Gore home on Irish Rep’s fairly minuscule stage, while
Michael Gottlieb’s lighting and David Toser’s costumes are other notable
features of first-rate physical production.
with a penchant for Irish history, The Home Place should
certainly rate as a must-see. But in more general terms, it provides a trenchant
look for all serious theatergoers into the toxic effect of decaying empire and
perverted thinking on the human heart.
Irish Repertory Theatre
until December 17