nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 10, 2008
There's theatrical magic going on at The Storm Theatre this month, of a pure and rare variety. Director Peter Dobbins has got his hands once again on Dion Boucicault's charmer of a melodrama, The Shaughraun, and he's brought it to life in all its pixilated, blarney-spouting glory, just as it ought to be seen. If you're ready to spend a full hour (i.e., the play's second act) at the edge of your seat, to relish some fast-paced adventure and some sweet if improbable romancing that just might bring a tear to your sentimental eye, well, then I advise you to purchase tickets to this play forthwith.
This is Storm's second experience with The Shaughraun, and after ten years it's a pleasure to see this still little-known work back on stage. Written about 140 years ago, it takes place in a small town in Ireland called Suil-a-beg, where a remarkably convoluted tale unfolds. It centers around Robert Ffolliott, a young Irish gentleman who sometime before the play begins was framed as a Fenian and sent to prison in Australia. His sister, Claire, and her friend, Arte O'Neal, have been victimized by the evil Corry Kinchela during Robert's absence; they are just a few weeks away from losing their home to Kinchela, and Arte—in love with Robert—is being wooed by Kinchela as well.
As the play commences, Claire meets and falls in love at first sight with a noble British captain, Harry Molineux, who has arrived in this remote Irish locale with his regiment to track down an escaped convict, who (of course) turns out to be Robert. It must be noted that Molineux falls in love with Claire in even more head-over-heels fashion that she with him.
Conn, the village Shaughraun (who, according to the playbill, is "the soul of every fair, the life of every funeral"—in short, the kind of fellow that everyone wants to know but that few would trust their daughters or their property with), has helped Robert with his escape and now conspires with Claire, Arte, and Robert's guardian Father Dolan to keep Robert away from the clutches of Molineux and his men. When Kinchela and his henchman Harvey Duff find out what's afoot, they get into the fray as well.
I told you it was complicated. But it plays out smoothly and seamlessly under Dobbins's oh-so-steady directorial hand, so that by the first act curtain you'll likely be fully in tune with all of these delightful characters and, as already noted, you may well spend most of the second act breathlessly reveling in Boucicault's neatly plotted developments. There are chase scenes, secret meetings, faked deaths, double-crosses, and a hilarious Irish wake (Boucicault is liberal with his satire of his fellow Irish). And through it all, there's the forbidden love between Claire and her arch-enemy, the English soldier Molineux—a love, of course, whose eventual happy outcome is never for one second in doubt. The Shaughraun is that kind of play.
The whole enterprise plays out on a lovely unit set created by Ken Larson that, as lit masterfully by Michael Abrams, evokes the many interior and exterior locations required by the sprawling story. Joanne M. Haas's costumes similarly suit the period and the respective classes/stations of each of the many characters.
The cast, of general fine quality, features two exemplary performances. In the title role, there's Chris Keveney, who seems to be having a splendid time as the irrepressible Conn, bounding about the stage as if the rooms were all too small to hold him properly. One exaggeratedly goofy exit of his in particular reminded me of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character giving chase. As Captain Molineux, Kris Kling is nothing short of superb, giving what may turn out to be the best comic romantic performance of the season. His utter conviction as the play's besotted hero is inspiring and infectious, and his British accent and attitude are unwaveringly correct. Kling, who made his Storm debut last season in The Jeweler's Shop, is a major find.
Offering strong support in the company of 16 are Glenn Peters, who makes Harvey Duff not simply the villainous comic relief that he could be, but a complex, thoroughly rotten coward and knave; Laura Bozzone, who plays Father Dolan's niece, Moya (who is also Conn's love interest) with vivacity and spirit; and Tim Seib as the earnest and forthright young Robert Ffolliott, making him a worthy focal point for all the shenanigans that fill this outsized yarn.
It is, in sum, a show that reminds you why the theatre is where we go to fill ourselves with awe and wonder, where the most ordinary event—falling in love, say—can become gloriously extraordinary. Dobbins and company are making this singular miracle happen on stage at the Storm. If you're ready for an evening of old-fashioned, unabashed charm, The Shaughraun may be just the fellow you seek.