Some years ago in his intrepid search for overlooked, if not completely forgotten, playwrights, Mint artistic director/director Jonathan Bank stumbled on Ireland’s Teresa Deevy and launched a campaign to revive her once notable reputation. To enthusiastic response he produced Wife to James Whelan in 2010, Temporary Powers in 2011 and Katie Roche in 2013.
Now at the company’s new Beckett Theatre home, Bank shows no sign of moving on from Deevy, whom he calls the “poster child” for his committed mission. He’s directing The Suitcase Under the Bed, four one-act plays with a cast of seven proficient doubling, tripling and quadrupling actors.
He’s industriously digging around for Deevy material, yes, but this time he’s had help from the playwright’s grandniece with whom he probed two suitcases containing these one-acts and several more discovered, as the program’s title indicates, under a Waterford, Ireland bed. Apparently, Bank stops nowhere in his high-and-low play-turning-up exploration.
So, crystal lovers, it looks as if Waterford crystal items are not the only intricately worked products emanating from the famous town. Now added to the list are several one-acts, from which Mint has selected only this quartet. The implication is, of course, that subsequent programs are likely.
In selecting these pieces, Bank reports that he wanted to find continuity. It’s a wise approach, and one that seems to have led him to a profoundly universal theme: troubled love.
The plays—only one of which has been previously produced—are “Strange Birth,” “In the Cellar of My Friend,” “Holiday House” and “The Kind of Spain’s Daughter.” If pressed to declare my favorite among them—not necessarily a crucial need —I’d say the first. (Other spectators, I concede, might lean toward any of the other three.)
In “Strange Birth” Sara Meade (Ellen Adair) is a boardinghouse cleaner who has been watching the sad lives of the tenants and has concluded form what she’s observed that love isn’t worth the effort. Among those brought low through relationships, Deevy introduces angry Mr. Bassett (A.J. Shively) and brusque Mrs. Stims (Gina Costigan) as well as dotty house owner Mrs. Taylor (Cynthia Mace). When postman Bill (Aidan Redmond) arrives, as he does daily—but this time declares his long-held affection for Sara—she’s not immediately disposed to accept his proposals. Will she eventually? That’s what Deevy pegs her suspense on.
With this curtain-raiser Deevy establishes the readily recognizable types more indigenous to rural lands than major Ireland cities on whom she draws. They’re people you’d pass on the street without wondering about their lives, which, as it eventuates, aren’t different from anyone’s anywhere handling his or her everyday ups and downs.
For “In the Cellar of My Friend” Belle Dobbyn (Sarah Nicole Deaver) arrives at the breakfast room of her more or less adopted aunt Patricia Keane (Mace) with the news that she and Patricia’s nephew Barney (Shively) are affianced. Not so fast, Belle. With barrister Thomas Keane (Colin Ryan), who’s had his eye on Belle for some time, and gardener Martin (Redmond) regularly passing by, the barrister’s son-Belle fiancé(?) Barney arrives with something immediately on his mind that may not jibe with what Belle is assuming. Again, Deevy is wondering about the course of love running absolutely smoothly—and keeps the surprises coming.
Two marriages—yet again involving love not equally distributed—figure in “Holiday House.” Once more romance being no holiday haunts the dialogue. The couples are Derek Mackey (Ryan) and wife Jil (Costigan) and Neil Mackey (Redmond) and wife Doris (Adair), and they have a backstory that still affecting their current relationships. How they resolve the lingering uncertainties is Deevy’s thrust here, with yet another exposure of star-crossed emotions.
While Deevy’s characters through the first three entries don’t indulge in an over abundance of humor, Deevy gets wry and sly in “The King of Spain’s Daughter.” Annie Kinsella (Deaver) is a tease, whom Jim Harris (Shively) longs to wed. Annie’s father Peter (Redmond) has no time for his daughter’s shenanigans and lets her know in no uncertain terms, as neighbor Mrs. Marks (Mace) and loafer Roddy Mann (Ryan) appear dangling different angles. As the playlet finishes, it looks as if things will come right for Annie and Jim. But do they?
Incidentally, there is an intermission between the first two and second two plays. Between the first-act plays, Deaver recites “The Spiritual Canticle” by St. John of the Cross”; between the second-act plays, Redmond recites “A Drover” by Padriac Colum.
With Vicki R. Davis supplying attractive sets (the recitations cover the scene changes) and Andrea Varga finding the right costumes for the various across-the-strata characters, Deevy’s need to be recalled and honored is indisputably achieved.