nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
August 26, 2011
As she did in Wife to James Whelan, Teresa Deevy has made poverty and struggle central forces in Temporal Powers. An eviction has led Michael and Min Donovan to the overgrown countryside ruins that for the play they will call home (a beautiful, space-transforming set by Vicki R. Davis). The hand of God, Mick believes, is at work here, ordering the earth in a way suitable to him. Quietly determined and ever the faithful Catholic, the husband assures his wife that they are merely playing their part. “Some are rich, some are poor,” Mick tells her, “and it must be the poverty was meant for us.”
Min isn’t so easily convinced. For her, the eviction is further proof that she’s wasting away with a man who longs for nothing more than a patch of ground on which he can toil. As Mick silently tinkers at securing their temporary home, she vents loudly about the raw deal life has sent her. Arms crossed and scowl firmly in place, if any embers of affection for her husband still burn, we can’t see them. Questioning why she ever accepted Michael’s hand, Min groans, “Too full of feeling I was...till the poverty dried me.”
A rare window of hope opens when a stack of money is found hidden away in the ruins. Not surprisingly though, these two very different people have very different ideas on what should be done. Soon after the discovery, several locals stop by to help make the Donovans' digs more comfortable, including Ned Cooney, Michael’s brother-in-law and local crook, who may have had something to do with the stolen loot. As this expertly plotted story grows, the money—initially a sign of hope—becomes a poison, threatening to infect all who come close.
Based on the two plays I’ve seen as part of the Mint Theater’s “Teresa Deevy Project,” Deevy was an expert at creating gripping, audience-friendly stories. Here, she uses the nearly cliché discovery of treasure as an entry into a more complex tale of betrayal, broken dreams, and hard economic times. Her characters are types, but also full of humanity and individual personality. And the cliffhangers she uses to lead one act into the next are masterful. The slower moments, like the moral debate in Act 3, are easily endured by our desire to find out how the story ends.
Just as with Wife to James Whelan, director Jonathan Bank has assembled a talented ensemble. Each adds just enough of their character’s color to the play, creating a painting I imagine Deevy would approve of. As Michael and Min, Aidan Redmond and Rosie Benton provide sturdy guideposts for the moral debate at hand. Con Horgan’s Ned Cooney is a delight, perfectly mixing criminal threat with a helplessness that lets us understand why the town feels obliged to protect him. There’s also a lovers story, and though it seems out of place, the performances by Eli James and Wrenn Schmidt are a joy to watch. The sweetness of their courtship is a nice counter to the toxicity of their friends, the Donovans. As the gossipy, overbearing Daisy Barron, Fiana Toibin is terrific, finding hilarity in Deevy’s lines without crossing into clowning. Bairbre Dowling, Paul Carlin, and Robertson Carricart also give strong performances.
Deevy had, for a time, an enviable career, and is an important part of Irish theatre history. For that reason alone, we who follow theatre should know her work. But more than that, her plays are masterful blends of great story and even greater humanity. We care how the story ends, and deeply for what happens to her characters. When a thoughtful ensemble like the one in Temporal Powers adds their special talents to the writer’s voice, fine theatre is made. And that is what the Mint has with Temporal Powers—another fine production of the work of Teresa Deevy.