The Pot of Broth: Colin Lane, David O’Hara, Clare O’Malley Photo: Carol
By Fern Siegel
is something primal and poetic in Three Small Masterpieces, at the Irish
Rep. That’s thanks to the stellar writers — William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and J.M. Synge — who capture the
pathos of the rural Irish at the turn of the 20th century. They were also
responsible for founding the Abbey Theatre in 1904.
The three one acts have been collected under the
audacious heading “small masterpieces.” Pot of Broth, The Rising of the Moon and Riders to the Sea are a triptych that underscores the mission of the
Irish Literary Renaissance: to promote a strong nationalism, Gaelic literary
heritage and the dignity of rural life.
(Later, in reaction to rural realism, Sean
O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock explored the dramas of Dublin slum life.)
Here, the focus is the trials and tribulations of
those in difficult circumstances — and how they cope. The set opens with the
humorous The Pot of Broth, by William Butler Yeats, collaborating with
Lady Gregory. A hungry tramp (David O’Hara) enters a home desperate for a meal.
To secure it, he dupes the couple, especially wife Sibby (Clare O’Malley) into
believing he has a magical stone that can transform ordinary broth into a
Aided by a gift for blarney, the tramp sneaks in
ingredients Sibby has brought for dinner, including a chicken. He is an
entertaining trickster, a classic figure in folklore, gaining advantage with
sly charm — and ensuring delightful theatrical fare.
The Rising of the Moon: Colin Lane, Adam Petherbridge Photo: Carol Rosegg
The second, more serious work is Lady Gregory’s The
Rising of The Moon, which takes on a political hue. Born into the upper
classes, Gregory’s sympathies were for the Irish struggle for freedom from
First staged in 1907 by the Irish National
Theatre, the play’s characters are torn between duty and patriotism. The
backdrop is the Anglo-Irish War.
An older sergeant (Colin Lane) is standing guard
at the harbor, hoping to capture an escaped Irish patriot (Adam Petherbridge).
The patriot, disguised as a ragged man who sings ballads to sailors, is eager
to enter the harbor. The issue for the sergeant is the price of capture: £100
pounds — a sum so gigantic he can’t even fathom how to spend it.
A poor man in need of money, he is torn between
economic realities and his own inclinations, as the escapee sings patriotic
songs and attempts to awaken his nationalistic sentiments. However, the
sergeant knows his duty — law and order. He bemoans the dangers of his job,
even as he acknowledges the prisoner’s popularity.
It’s a moving and tense moment — will the
sergeant choose duty, enriching himself, or align with his people?
Gregory extolled music and folklore as tools to
help unite the Irish — and it is genuinely heartfelt when the men join together
in song. The play, named after the famed ballad, is a
stirring call for rebellion: the “pikes must be together at the rising of the
Both Lane and Petherbridge are adept at mining
their characters’ humanity and want, exposing the struggle for existence.
Riders To The Sea: Clare O’Malley, Jennifer McVey Photo: Carol Rosegg
Struggle and pain are also the cornerstones of
J.M. Synge’s Riders To The Sea, the final entry. The saddest of the
three, it is set in the Aran Islands, at the mouth of Galway Bay. Life is
basic, and death is ever present. A mother named Maurya (a touching Terry
Donnelly) has lost four sons and a husband to the sea.
Now Michael, her favorite, is presumed drowned.
As she and daughters Nora (Clare O’Malley) and Cathleen (Jennifer McVey) cope
with the unimaginable loss, her last son Bartley (Adam Petherbridge) is
determined to sell a horse in Connemara, which means crossing the often-treacherous
sea by ferry.
Synge wrote several plays about the Arans and
in all he reveals the naked suffering endured for generations.
directed by Charlotte Moore, the actors, who often play double roles, mine this
emotional terrain with true feeling. Moore economically uses James Morgan’s
evocative sets and Michael
Gottlieb's lighting, to recreate a time and place with care.
Small Irish Masterpieces is, in its own quiet way, a big achievement.
Small Irish Masterpieces
Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22 St. Manhattan (Through April 22)
tickets visit: irishrep.org
Time: 75 minutes no intermission