Feature

Wife to James Whelan

Teresa Deevy's script all but disappeared for 70 years—until a relative found it in an attic trunk. The Irish playwright had a string of hits at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in the 1930s.

Mint Theater Company
New York
(212) 315-0231

***

New York’s Mint Theater Company has made resurrecting nearly forgotten plays its mission, said Erik Haagensen in Back Stage. “Though not a long-lost masterpiece,” Wife to James Whelan qualifies as a “real rarity.” Irish playwright Teresa Deevy had a string of hits at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in the 1930s before the management, seeking fresh talent, rejected Wife and sent Deevy packing. Her sharp, idiosyncratic portrait of a small-town Irish lad who leaves his life and love behind to make his fortune in Dublin all but disappeared for 70 years—until a relative found the script in an attic trunk. In reviving the work, director Jonathan Bank has revealed “a worthy addition to Ireland’s dramatic literature.”

Deevy really was “a rather good playwright,” said Michael Feingold in The Village Voice. At first, her dialogue seems too “simple and straightforward,” but almost imperceptibly, it grows richer in subtext. Deevy’s characters also behave in surprisingly complex ways. James, the young man who leaves rural Kilbeggan behind for a chance to “move up a rung on the economic ladder,” tells his love interest, Nan, that he’ll only be gone for a year. He’s instead gone for seven. When James returns to Kilbeggan to start a business, Nan surprises us by asking him for a job instead of expressing her feelings. The tragedy lies in how both characters’ stubbornness gets in the way of their love.

What’s most impressive is Deevy’s mastery of different moods, said Elisabeth Vincentelli in the New York Post. Just as you think you’re watching some sort of “rural, slowed-down screwball comedy,” you’re suddenly hit by “the weight of the unspoken.” The cast, led by Shawn Fagan and Janie Brookshire, likewise exhibits such an “unassuming charm” that it may take quite a while before you “register how quietly devastating the show really is.”

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