Monday, November 20, 2017

Belfast Girls—Corrib Theatre—SE Portland

Voyage of Discovery

This drama, inspired by true events, is written by Jaki McCarrick and directed by Gemma Whelan (Artistic Director of Corrib).  It is playing at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., through December 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-389-0579.

Over the years many countries, when facing a crisis either because of overpopulation, war, caste systems, internal turmoil, etc. will try to eliminated the “undesirables” from their countries, that group being based on who the ruling body is, of course.  Some simply exterminated them or exiled them from the country.  Others build walls to keep these sorts out.  In Ireland, during the mid-1800’s, those types of individuals were prisoners, the poor and “public women,” among others.

The focus of the play is on five women on board a ship, the Inchinnan, bound for the “male-heavy” country of Australia.  Faced with starvation in their own country and deplorable living conditions, many jumped at the opportunity of a second chance at the good life.  We all take journeys in our lives, a few seeking that Garden of Eden or a Brave, New World.  This sojourn is directed toward the Unknown, and so…In the Beginning, there were…the Belfast Girls!

The action takes place in the living quarters--consisting of a few bunks, some storage space for suitcases, a desk, some candles and a chair--for five women.  Four of the ladies have had pretty rough lives and could be considered “public women,” as a means to earn their living.  Judith (Anya Pearson), of Jamaican descent, seems to be the leader of the pack.  Her aspirations seem a bit higher than the others, as she can read and write and enjoys books.  She is an activist and wants women to organize to get better conditions in their jobs.  Her goal is someday to be a teacher.

Hannah (Summer Olsson) is a bit more basic, she just wants to get married to some rich guy and live in the lap of luxury.  Her bud, Ellen (Brenan Dwyer), is just as coarse a person, even content to be involved in a little rough-housing to pass the time.  Sarah (Hannah Edelson) is a bit of a loner and is satisfied to focus on making a pretty hat to be worn on her arrival.  Into this odd mix comes a newbie, Molly (Tiffany Groben) and it’s obvious from the outset she doesn’t fit.  She loves culture and has a raft of books and plays.  Her desire is to be a stage actress.  She claims to have been a servant in an affluent household and thus her love of culture.

But this arrival seems to throw the group into a bit of a turmoil, as we find out that not all is as it seems on the surface.  Alliances are formed, secrets are revealed and violence erupts as the long journey and close quarters takes its toll on the individuals.  Can’t tell you more without giving away plot devices that an audience should discover.  But the end result, in the long term, is that Australia is a thriving country now, so what was to be an act of “genocide” has bore fruit in a new setting, proving the indomitable spirit of a human being, in this case, women that became empowered and made the best of a bad situation for the future betterment of all.

McCarrick has written a powerful play of the endurance of the human spirit.  For all these people’s failings a greater good would emerge.  Whelan has beautifully balanced the wide stage in her blocking of the actors and has modulated the emotions of them to get the best impact of their situation.  Likewise, the set, stark with a long playing area (Lara Klingeman) and lighting (Anthony Arnista), as well as music, does much to compliment that action and story.  And the whole cast is first-rate, one of the best ensembles I’ve seen!

I recommend this play but, be warned, it does have adult situations and rough language so may not be for everyone.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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