Thursday, April 14, 2022

Irish One Acts

Last night I saw Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Two by Synge, which consists of the one-act plays The Tinker's Wedding and In the Shadow of the Glen, both by Irish dramatist John Millington Synge.

I mainly knew Synge from another one act of his, Riders to the Sea, which was inspired in part by time he spent out on the Aran Islands. Both The Tinker's Wedding and In the Shadow of the Glen are far less bleak. Synge claimed that The Tinker's Wedding was founded on an actual incident that occurred in County Wicklow. In the Shadow of the Glen, which was his first play to ever be performed, also takes place in County Wicklow, but is purely fiction.

Both plays turn on unexpected events. Characters form unlikely alliances, and then shift their allegiances just when we least expect them. Holy man and sinner, law abider and criminal, married and unmarried, even the quick and the dead seem interchangeable in these plays. The Irish Rep production also benefits from a game cast, which includes Ciaran Bowling, who recently appeared in The Daughter-in-Law at the Mint, as well as Terry Donnelly and John Keating, whom I saw in Lady G right before New York went into lockdown.

Synge died young, at only 37, but he lived a remarkably productive life as one of the co-founders of Dublin's Abby Theatre, along with Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats. Both Gregory and Yeats frequently wrote one-act plays as well. Yeats's one act Deirdre transforms Celtic myth into a poetic meditation on life, death, and longing. Mrs. Patrick Campbell originally played the title role in the play, using a set designed by Lady Gregory's son Robert. Yeats later dedicated the published play to the two of them.

Back in 2018, Irish Rep put on an evening called Three Small Irish Masterpieces, which consisted of Riders to the Sea, Lady Gregory's The Rising of the Moon, and The Pot of Broth, which Yeats wrote in collaboration with Lady Gregory. It would be nice, though, to see an evening just of Yeats's own one-act plays (perhaps with Deirdre as the centerpiece). Just putting it out there...