Arrah-na-Pogue Or, the Wicklow Wedding
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
March 7, 2011
Arrah-na-Pogue, Or, the Wicklow Wedding is an old-fashioned Irish romance dramedy by renowned actor-playwright Dion Boucicault. Set against the backdrop of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Arrah-na-Pogue chronicles the misadventures of two Wicklow couples who are deeply but tumultuously in love. Despite spare design and a slightly slow start, you warm up to the story as the actors do, and are soon won over.
Arrah-na-Pogue is performed in the theater of the Church of Notre Dame, which is a beautiful venue. The opening scenes felt somewhat lackluster and forced with Paul Nugent playing the weasely main antagonist as a cross between the Lucky Charms leprechaun and Othello’s Iago. Jonathan Blakely also gets off to a somewhat unsteady start as the dashing main protagonist, Beamish MacCoul, outlaw and rebellion leader, who has returned to his native shore to marry and spirit away longtime love and beautiful heiress, Fanny Power (played by Christine Bullen). However, the action, humor, and accents pick up considerably with the entrance of the humbler peasant couple, Shaun the Post and Arrah Meelish, played with spirit by Phil Mills and Nicola Murphy. From them, the Irish blarney and sentimentality seem more natural, as does their chemistry as a couple about to be wed.
In the famed Boucicault manner, much melodrama unfolds as the four lovers’ fates become inextricably intertwined and neither wedding comes off as planned. The plot is thick with Shakespearean/Dickensian machinations of natural and manufactured jealousy, rival lovers, betrayal, self-sacrifice—and a double happy ending at the last.
Despite some belaboring, including unnecessary narration of offstage action, the romance is winning enough that you are ready to cheer when all inevitably comes right in the end. Also charming is the spirit of “Erin go Bragh” (a Gaelic phrase meaning “Ireland Forever”) that strongly suffuses the play, as is the parochial Irish wit—one character railing against women by proclaiming “Father Adam, why didn’t you die with all your ribs in your chest!” The plot’s loose ends are perhaps tied up too neatly but there is enough energy and classic theatricality that you can forgive and thoroughly enjoy the show.