Review: The Irish Heritage Theatre starts their Women of Ireland season with Marina Carr’s ‘By the Bog of Cats’

Arlen Hancock as Carthage Kilbride and Kirsten Quinn as Hester Swane in “By the Bog of Cats”. Photo byCarlos Forbes

By Margaret Darby

There are moments in theater when an actor takes over the stage with a mesmerizing performance as Tina Brock does with her role as Catwoman in the Irish Heritage Theatre’s production of By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr. Brock’s Catwoman exudes such intensity that whatever enigmatic dialogue she utters about eating mice or impending doom seems to be a Delphic message delivered directly from the gods. Then, as you are pondering the scope of her words and furrowing your brow to understand, she bursts into laughter.

Director Peggy Mecham managed to have all of her cast speak in a convincing Irish brogue – so thick sometimes that it took me a few minutes to follow the dialogue. And once I accustomed my ears to the accent and my mind to images of humans eating mice and swans being pets, there were new issues to contemplate.

Hester Swayne (Kirsten Quinn) is another vivid light on the stage – intense in her fierce and manic love, tortured by an obsession to wait the return of the mother who abandoned her on the bog decades earlier. Josie and Hester are heckled, teased, and tortured by Mrs. Kilbride (Mary Pat Walsh), a vain and proud woman with no other assets than her ambition and her son, Carthage (Arlen Hancock), whom she has convinced to leave Hester in order to obtain the dowry of the naïve beauty, Caroline Cassidy (Jenna Kuerzi).  It is Caroline’s father Xavier (Ethan Lipkin) and Carthage’s mother who are pushing the match and evicting Hester from her home on the bog.

The other forces are ghosts, who can only be heard by Hester and Catwoman. Catwoman finds the ghosts a nuisance and tries to wave them off while Hester first welcomes them and then becomes fearful of their oracle.

Monica Murray (Susan Giddings) is the good neighbor, the balanced friend who tries to get everyone to compromise but fails. She eventually accepts fate, admitting that the world does not “yield easy to mortal wishes.”

It is at the wedding feast that all the twists in the plot are finally untangled, and Marina Carr’s finely crafted play spins out the tragic outcome. Peggy Mecham’s directing has allowed a fine cast to have their freedom in executing this play and they react to each other’s lines rather than just reciting their own.  As Peggy Mecham declares in her Director’s Notes, the cast was ‘exploring the intricacies of relationships in the play,’ and that approach has yielded impressive results.

Bravo to the Irish Heritage Theatre for banking on Marina Carr, whose play garnered the Irish Times/EST Award for best new play when it premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1998. Today she is an active teacher and playwright who writes of her Irish heritage, but also wields the pen of the future of Irish dramaturgy.  She just received the coveted Windham-Campbell Award this past September.  Run faster, Conor McPherson and Sebastian Barry, Ms. Carr is gaining on you.

If You Go: Irish Heritage Theatre, Walnut Street Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. November 2 – November 18, 2017.  Tickets are $15-$25.  To find out more and to purchase tickets go to: http://www.irishheritagetheatre.org