Pamela J. Gray &
Stephanie Roth Haberle photos by Carol Rosegg
dramas with expiring ladies seem to be thing this spring. Right on the heels of
the superb revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Woman comes the
brilliant Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr, being given an
exhilarating production by Irish Repertory Theatre. Both prove that a depiction
of our final moments can be terrifically entertaining as well as illuminating.
are similarities between the two plays, there’s nothing superfluous in this
work by Carr. While hardly a name as resonant as Albee’s, Carr is one of
Ireland’s most prominent contemporary playwrights, and she writes in her own
distinctively invigorating voice. While defining her characters, her writing is
also filled with bracing observations on the matters at hand – life and death,
of course, among them, the ravages of both, along with the complexities of
love, marriage and parenting – often seasoned with a wry wit and without a drop
of sentimentality. When the dying woman eyes herself in a mirror, she is
overjoyed at what she sees: “I have transformed myself into the ideal. Look at
me! I am graveyard chic, angular, lupine, dangerous.”
heroine is simply identified as “Woman.” We spend her last two hours with her
in her bedroom, located in The Midlands of Ireland, while she converses with
another woman called Scarecrow, pondering the pleasures and pains of her life.
Who or what Scarecrow is is never specifically defined; she is obviously some
sort of alter ego, perhaps Woman’s subconscious, perhaps her id, although she
often talks with a coolly cynical logic.
point. Scarecrow tells Woman: “This world’s job is to take everything from you.
Yours is to not let it.”
At times you
might think Scarecrow is her conscience, as when Woman rails at her: “You
vicious parasite that’s led me a crazy dance. Barking orders to kingdom come.
All that unnecessary guilt. All those sly commands. All that wrong advice!”
of Scarecrow plus the dark menace ensconced in the bedroom’s wardrobe give the
proceedings a compelling layer of the supernatural. Yet the harsh reality of
the actual situation is always present, equally compelling.
Much of their
intense back-and-forth between Woman and Scarecrow involves Woman’s long
marriage to her chronically unfaithful husband, simply called Him, the father
of her eight children and a ninth “who didn’t make it…gone before he was here.”
Aidan Redmond &
Stephanie Roth Haberle
appears on the scene, there is a fierce depiction of the patriarchal
architecture of marriage, in which he declares that despite all the women in
his life, Woman is still his wife. “You have no right to leave me like this,”
he cries with anger as well as sob at her bedside.
taunts him with the fact that she too has had affairs, affairs he never
suspected, he counters angrily that women are not “allowed” such subterfuge.
“The whole point of a woman is not so much wanting her, that waxes and wanes,
but that no one else can go near her,” he says.
together goes from moments of tender love to Strindbergian ferocity, and to
mention that other playwright again, it’s a ferocity reminiscent of a pair of
Albee characters: George and Martha.
and recriminations, along with the rest of the play, are realized in arresting
fashion under Ciarán O’Reilly’s taut but never forced
direction. His varied stage pictures and guiding of his actors into richly
detailed performances on the minuscule playing area of Irish Rep’s W. Scott
McLucas Studio Stage are masterful.
Stephanie Roth Haberle travels a monumental journey that within a moment can
switch from a girlish romanticism to heart-breaking infinite despair, giving
full value to every turn of the character and keeping her intensely human. At
the same time, her connection to Scarecrow – however unclarified – is never in
doubt, and Pamela J. Gray as Scarecrow delivers a pungent counterpoint to
Haberle’s emotional rollercoaster, sometimes disparaging, sometimes consoling,
but always with her own mysterious subtext.
brings a striking macho persona to Him, while also lacing the portrayal with a
vulnerability that goes beyond self-pity.
Dale Soules, Stephanie
Roth Haberle & Pamela J. Gray
additional flavors to the mix is Dale Soules as Auntie Ah, who raised Woman
after her mother’s untimely death. A woman of some religious fervor, she can
also be practical, and Soules brings an ear-tickling musicality with an Irish
brogue that informs such lines as: “Happiness! Everyone thinks they have a
God-given right to it. Sure, it’s only a recent invention of the Sunday
brogue is used to good effect by all the players. Stephen Gabis is the dialect
The look of
the production also belies the tiny space it is playing in. The black accents on
the bedding and the walls of Charlie Corcoran’s set design give it an expansive
mood of foreboding. Whitney Locher’s costumes adroitly augment character, with
dark-haired Woman in a simple white loose-fitting nightgown, contrasted with
the sleek black gown worn by the blonde Scarecrow. (No, there’s no attempt to
make her look like a scarecrow, although at the very end there is a terrifying
transformation to the bird part of the appellation, thanks to Bob Flanagan’s
puppet and mask design.) Further heightening the ominous mood are the
dramatically shifting light by Michael Gottlieb and Ryan Rumery’s sound and
tangible element of the production is the sheer intimacy of the theater. At
times audience members may find themselves only a foot or so away from an
actor, and such proximity can be enthralling. However, Carr’s play throbs with
such big ideas and emotions, and the four performances are so potent that the
closed-in space almost seems to rob the proceedings of some of its grandeur.
Scarecrow is a play
of large dimension. It could use more breathing room.
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd