Married to the Sea
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 11, 2007
Jo is eight, and can sometimes "hear" how the weather will be near her Galway home. She loves her Daddy, a fisherman who sometimes lets her come on his boat. She's uneasy around her mother, who some afternoons drinks brandy and complains about men with her gossipy friend Teresa Naughton. There's a lot Jo sees happen, but doesn't understand—why does her mother pour tea into the brandy bottle? Who's the mysterious woman her father danced with one night at a town bonfire? Why does her mother wander about the house calling to someone named "Luke"? Why didn't her father let her come on his last fishing trip—and why hasn't he come back yet?
Such is the world of Married to the Sea, a production from Galway's Dragonfly Company. The actual story, concerning a long-buried family secret, is a bleak one, and playwright Shona McCarthy (also playing Jo's Mother, as well as directing the piece) does well to tell it from Jo's perspective—a child's eye does much to dress it up with some magic and mystery. Not that Jo is completely naïve—children often aren't. In fact, they can be matter-of-fact about disturbing things, something actor Siobhan Donnellan gets exactly. There's plenty Jo understands, but there's also plenty she doesn't, and Donnellan gets that balance right; just as McCarthy gets the proper balance between her love for her daughter and her disappointment over the way her own life has run.
The workhorse in the company is Fiachra O' Dubhghaill, who takes on seven separate roles in the show—including both Daddy and the busybody Teresa Naughton. His performance as Teresa ultimately impressed me most; I was initially skeptical, as his change into Teresa involves putting on a bad wig, something which made me brace for Teresa being something out of Monty Python. But his Teresa—ultimately a nasty character—is very believable.
Some of the direction baffles. McCarthy has wisely chosen a spare set, dominated by a pair of scrims hung to suggest sails. But she then clutters the set with the actors themselves, keeping them onstage through the show, standing upstage with their backs turned when they're not in a scene. On a bigger stage, this might have worked, but here it's jarring; the actors often "suddenly enter" midway through scenes, but it looks like they've already been there several minutes. There's also a point when Jo comes into the audience, then turns and looks at the stage and spends a few minutes excitedly describes what she "sees"; but all the audience can see is... an empty stage and the backs of two actors. Also confusing is the "Queen of Sheba" (Agnes Carlon), the mysterious woman Daddy was dancing with. Hers is a non-speaking role—she comes in periodically to do Middle Eastern dancing in silhouette before the scrim. The problem is that any time Jo mentions her, she describes the Queen of Sheba's dance as a wild, manic sort of gypsy-dance, but Carlon is instead doing a slow dance style that seems to mostly involve various arm gestures. Lovely, but it doesn't match what Jo is saying.
McCarthy has an imaginative vision with this play; but pairing with a director with a strong visual sense would have brought that vision to us more clearly.