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Katie Roche

Wrenn Schmidt in the title role of KATIE ROCHE by Teresa Deevy. Photo by Richard Termine


Katie Roche


                                   by Marc Miller


Katie Roche, now unspooling as part of the Mint Theater Company’s Silver Lining Streaming Series (for free), encapsulates what’s lovable about the Mint. The company, long dedicated to reviving little-remembered plays by little-remembered playwrights, spent years exhuming the works of one Teresa Deevy, an Irish writer who thrived at the Abbey Theater in the 1930s, then fell out of favor with it. This 1936 effort, a well-shot taping of a 2013 Mint production I somehow missed, is no masterpiece; it’s small, uneventful, and reeking of well-made-play conventions that can be difficult to sell to modern, limited-attention-span audiences. But for those of us who want to know what earlier theatergoers liked and why they liked it, Katie Roche is, like so much of the Mint’s product, indispensable.


Patrick Fitzgerald and Wrenn Schmidt  in a scene from KATIE ROCHE by Teresa Deevy. Photo by Richard Termine


It's also a valuable document of Irish societal rules, sexual attitudes, and class conflict. Consider its title character, played with a fetching light touch by Wrenn Schmidt. A servant girl in a small town outside Dublin, she does the chores for single, middle-aged Amelia Gregg (a quite wonderful Margaret Daly), and for Amelia’s brother Stanislaus (Patrick Fitzgerald), a well-regarded architect who spends most of his time in the big city. Stanislaus long ago unsuccessfully wooed Katie’s mother, and now, back in Lower Ballycar, he has his eye on Katie—though there’s an immense age difference, and though marriage to Katie, born illegitimate, would surely cause talk. Katie already has a steady beau, the free-spirited Michael Maguire (Jon Fletcher), but this isn’t an easy choice for her. She’s ambitious, eager to rise above her lowly station; she’s also sassy, impulsive, and ill-equipped to think out the consequences of her hastily made decisions. She wants to be a nun; she wants to cavort at the regatta dance; she has a healthy physical interest in Michael. She’s all over the place, in a credible way—and all over the place, in Teresa Deevy’s regimented Ireland, is not a good place for a young woman to be. 


There’s more. A rather rough mystical passerby (Jamie Jackson) tells Katie more about her past, further confusing her; Stanislaus and Amelia have a sister, Margaret (Fiana Toibin), stern, judgmental, and married to a man we’re probably lucky not to meet; and Frank (John O’Creagh), an old suitor of Amelia’s, has also been popping around, forcing the cheery, set-in-her-ways spinster to confront a past she’d rather forget.


If the narrative sounds crowded, it isn’t. Deevy’s main focus is on Katie, a quixotic miss dealt a bad hand by society and unsure of how to change her lot. When she accepts Stanislaus’s proposal, we can see trouble: He’s stiff—not uncaring, but certain of who he is and what he wants, and unwilling to change his routine sufficiently to accommodate his young bride’s random spirit. He makes bad decisions with unfortunate consequences, and so does Katie; these take up most of the running time. Deevy’s point, it appears, is that Katie has no good options. Her only way out of her low estate is to agree to a marriage she doesn’t really want, and her only potential source of happiness is her young firebrand boyfriend, who won’t amount to anything. There are a lot of colors to Katie, and Schmidt freely flits among them, making her quicksilver choices and mood changes not just believable, but almost justifiable.


David Friedlander, Jon Fletcher and Wrenn Schmidt in a scene from KATIE ROCHE by Teresa Deevy. 


Daly works wonders with Amelia, giving her dialogue—largely “dear me, dear me,” “let’s have tea,” and “now, wouldn’t that be nice”—a ring not detectable on the page. Toibin, stuck with a one-note character, doesn’t transcend it, and Fitzgerald, I’m afraid, is rather a blank; we’re unsure of Stanislaus’s motivations, why he’s so unyielding, even whether or not we should like him. Jonathan Bank directs them all with a keen sense of pacing and a customary aptitude for focus. Vicki R. Davis’s set and Nicole Pearce’s lighting are up to the Mint’s lofty standard, and Martha Hally’s costumes tell a story of their own, as we see Katie’s wardrobe improve as she scales the social ladder.


The well-made-play tidiness can be wearying; too many entrances and exits are too neatly timed dramaturgically, and the symmetry, with Act Three taking place exactly a year after Act One, awfully pronounced. Yet Deevy, refreshingly, doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little ribbon; her characters’ destinies remain satisfyingly uncertain, and, but for Margaret’s small-minded severity, she doesn’t judge them. She was a major playwright for a while, and the Mint was right to give us a fresh look at her. The company’s streaming series has four more titles on the way. Meantime, here’s one that, for all its quirks and occasional infelicities, you’d be advised not to miss. 


Katie Roche

Off-Broadway play

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Available through March 31 at