Initially scheduled to open in March 2020, Irish Repertory Theatre’s manufacturing of Eugene O’Neill’s A Contact of the Poet, postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, made its look as a top-notch artistically designed digital presentation in October of that yr, as a part of the corporate’s “the present should go browsing” mission. Now, with the return of dwell theater, it’s again for a robust in-person Off-Broadway engagement on Irish Rep’s most important stage by means of April 17.
One of many lesser-known works by the Nobel Prize-winning playwright, the heartrending drama – written in 1942, however not produced on Broadway till 1958 (5 years after O’Neill’s demise) – was supposed to be the primary in A Story of Possessors Self-Dispossessed, a nine-part cycle that he by no means accomplished in regards to the Irish immigrant expertise in America. Set in a village outdoors Boston in 1828, the story takes place contained in the eating room of Melody’s Tavern, owned by the eponymous debt-ridden transplant Main Cornelius (Con) Melody, and labored by his humble and adoring spouse Nora and their defiant daughter Sara.
Praised by the longer term Duke of Wellington as a hero of the 1809 Battle of Talavera within the Napoleonic Wars, Con, who has forsaken his native Irish brogue for an American accent, proudly dons his outdated uniform annually to have fun the anniversary of his victory. He drinks excessively and boasts incessantly of his previous and his tenuous European standing as a member of the landed gentry, till he’s compelled to acknowledge his meagre funds and customary Irish roots, when Sara falls in love with and plans to marry Simon Hartford, a rich upper-class American visitor on the tavern. Their relationship, and the socio-economic disparity between them, units off a violent reckoning by Con of who he actually is and the place he actually stands in a stratified, biased, and class-conscious nation.
Masterfully directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, the ever-outstanding Robert Cuccioli delivers a stellar characterization of the tragic and tempestuous Con, broken by his heavy consuming, over-bloated satisfaction, and unrealized social aspirations, as he recites the poetry of Lord Byron and relives his triumph at Talavera. He’s laughably pretentious and self-aggrandizing, viciously insulting, indignant, and violent, then remorseful and apologetic, victimized and defeated, in a nuanced efficiency full of psychological depth and complexity that shifts dramatically from second to second.
Kate Forbes is profoundly affecting because the long-suffering Nora, who’s devoted unconditionally to Con, caters to his each temper, and makes excuses for his abusive habits, saying it’s the liquor speaking. She clothes modestly and retains her Irish accent, works exhausting on the tavern, doing the cooking, cleansing, and procuring with the restricted credit score nonetheless out there to them, whereas waxing poetic to Sara in regards to the that means and worth of affection and quietly comprehending the inside ache and insecurity of her troubled and troubling husband who considers her inferior. Not like her accepting and forgiving mom, Sara, performed by Belle Aykroyd in her NYC theater debut, is argumentative and confrontational, declaring her hatred of Con, feigning an Irish brogue to upset him, and berating his therapy of Nora, whereas following her mom’s instance find the enjoyment of affection with (the unseen) Simon, whose standing is so completely different from her personal.
Supporting the three leads is the wonderful featured solid of Andy Murray as Con’s long-time buddy and army mate Jamie Cregan, who encourages his satisfaction in Talavera and joins him in combating his present battles; David Beck as Dan Roche, Rex Younger as Paddy O’Dowd, and David Sitler as Patch Riley – native Irish immigrants who falsely admire Con to get free drinks and meals on the tavern, the place they sing, stomp, and hornpipe to conventional reels; Mary McCann as Simon’s condescending and long-winded mom Deborah Hartford, who discourages his attachment to Sara; and John C. Vennema because the Hartford’s legal professional Nicholas Gadsby, despatched to make Con an insulting supply that ignites a brutal climax. And James Russell because the tavern barkeep Mickey Maloy is very sympathetic, heartwarming, and convincing in his affection and concern for the ill-treated Nora.
The compelling performances are enhanced by an historicizing set by Charlie Corcoran and props by Brandy Hoang Collier, period-style character-defining costumes co-designed by Alejo Vietti and Gail Baldoni, with hair and wigs by Robert Charles Vallance and make-up by Joe DeLude. Evocative lighting by Michael Gottlieb, sound by M. Florian Staab, and unique music by Ryan Rumery contribute to the altering moods, and distinctive dialect teaching by Amanda Quaid and combat route by Rick Sordelet add to the manufacturing’s authenticity and resonance. It’s a basic that’s hardly ever seen however properly price revisiting with Irish Rep.
Operating Time: Roughly two hours and 40 minutes, together with an intermission.
A Contact of the Poet performs by means of Sunday, April 17, 2022, on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage at Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Road, NYC. For tickets (priced at $50-70), name the field workplace at (212) 727-2737, or go on-line. Everybody should present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and booster, together with a photograph ID, to enter the constructing, and should put on a masks inside.