Beginning on May 9 and continuing with three more performances on May 10 and 11 in Stansbury Theatre, the department of Theatre Arts put on Sean O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars,” a portrayal of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising in turns humorous and sad, with an ultimately tragic ending.
The play presented a challenge with its Irish accents and colloquial phrases and the seriousness of the subject matter in certain places. The accents seemed to impede the acting of some actors; they should have perhaps abstained from attempting the Irish accent because they couldn’t pull it off convincingly. However, a handful had passable or good accents. In particular, I admired the Irish accents of Matthew Cawley ‘13 as Fluther Good and Clare Lauer ‘16 as Rosie Redmond.
The accents, both the more authentic and the less-so, made the dialogue difficult to understand at times. Nevertheless, the meaning of the story remained intact. I believe this is due in part to the strong desire of the playwright to fully depict the causes and consequences of the Easter Rising. O’Casey was a Protestant Patriot who participated in the politics of the revolution, but he ultimately condemned the senseless violence and death that resulted from the politics.
The character who best exemplified this perspective of the revolution for me was Bessie Burgess. Madeline Bunke ‘14 did a marvelous job portraying the contradictions of Bessie’s character as a rigid, judgmental Catholic and Nationalist but also as a self-sacrificial and nurturing woman. When Nora Clitheroe goes into labor and her husband Jack is absent fighting, Bessie faces the danger on the streets to fetch a doctor for her when no one else will. She may be a hard woman, but she often brings tea and other comforts to the dying girl, Mollser (Olivia Hemley ‘14), and looks after Nora when she goes mad. Bunke successfully played Bessie for laughs, but in the end, showed her steely resolve to do the right thing, even in the face of death.
Characters such as Peter Flynn and Rosie Redmond also provided much-needed comic relief. Steven Stein ‘13’s performance as the senile Uncle Peter Flynn had the audience laughing with his combination of physical humor and exaggeratedly accented language. Likewise, Clare Lauer played the character of the playful, good-hearted prostitute to its fullest potential, making her mannerisms and dialogue flirtatious and funny, but not over the top. In fact, I liked her more as a character than almost anyone else in the play.
There are not traditional heroes and villains in this story. Jack Clitheroe, the brave, idealistic fighter and handsome, loving husband would seem to be the hero, but by the end of the play, he has abandoned his wife, who has gone mad. Nora, although pitiable, is hardly a heroine with her lack of action and weak protestations. Fluther, although a likable (if blustery) man, turns to drink instead of facing reality. In the end, the play suggests that ideology matters much less than the actions and suffering of complex individuals.