There’s a new operatic heroine in town.
Marina Carr’s Hester Swane may not be a Scottish lady, or a Carthaginian princess, or a Druid priestess, but this down-and-out Irish tinker suffers more passionate abandonment by loved ones in her brief stage lifetime than all three opera divas suffer together in theirs.
An Irish drama of comedy and tragedy, fable and fact, the living and the dead, mythology and heredity, prophecies fulfilled, curses concluded, fates met and brides assembled, By the Bog of Cats … is unlike any play you are apt to see.
As a symbol for the soul, the swan served as Hester Swane’s surname. But Hester’s mother Josie raised her with a black swan, and Hester’s soul struggles with its blackness as she faces the loss of mother, mate, home, and child.
Hester’s black swan has died, and now it’s Hester’s turn to die. The Tiresias/Clytemnestra figure of the Catwoman has predicted it, and the Ghost Fancier has arrived to collect her spirit.
Ms. Carr’s drama examines how Hester has arrived at this point and how she will react as her options are inexorably narrowed.
Directed with an eye to powerful crescendos and climaxes as well as gripping silences, John Mossman displays a mastery of all things theatrical. He emphasizes the play’s strong drama rather than the play’s tricky defensive comedy. His vision is more than supported by the haunting scenery by Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky, the magical costumes by Zach Wagner, and the ritualistic lighting by Claire Sangster. The odd properties required for this play have been exquisitely devised by Mary McClenehan and Reid Coker.
But it is the actors who once again shine the brightest in the Artistic Home production. Each has been carefully coached by dialectician Sammi Grant.
Kristin Collins’ Hester Swane is a revelation. Playing a character who rarely leaves the stage and never stops suffering, Ms. Collins finds a plethora of ways to keep the audience’s attention rapt. In situations which could call forth the most melodramatic histrionics, Ms. Collins finds the human truth in every moment. It is a bravura performance among stellar performances
Tim Musachio makes the leaving villainous Jason-jilting-Medea husband Carthage Kilbride a sympathetic sort of guy and Kelsey Phillips avoids the simpering foolish young girl stereotype to create a sensible young woman who earns the audience’s sympathy.
In fact each member of the cast is a stand out deserving of attention and praise: John LaFlamboy’s Ghost Fancier is both seductive and creepy; as Catwoman, Caroline Dodge Latta creates a hauntingly mysterious creature with an aura in keeping with her wonderful furry costume; Darrelyn Marx’s neighbor Monica Murray is equal parts nosy and compassionate; young Elsie Wolf belies her age with a mature and worldly Josie Swane; Jane DeLaubenfels’ Mrs. Kilbride could not have found a more gripping and essential a characterization; the Xavier Cassidy of Frank Nall captures the public decency surrounding the private degeneracy with subtlety; Daniel Shtivelberg’s Young Dunne, Kieran O’Connor’s Joseph Swane, and Michael Rogalski each turn in as detailed a performance as if they were playing much larger parts.
The Artistic Home once again proves to be a place where great and important theater may be found in the finest of productions.
If you enjoy Conor McPherson’s plays you owe it to yourself to check out this one by Marina Carr.