Playwright: Rebecca Lenkiewicz. At: Strawdog Theatre Company at the Factory, 1623 W. Howard St. Tickets: $30. Runs through: June 24
"Earth, receive an honored guest/William Yeats is laid to rest"don't you believe it! Ireland's most lauded export may have died nearly 80 years, but all it takes is the mention of his name to make a household mired down in gloomy resignation embark on reckless ventures involving romance, risks and maybe a fresh start on life ( or at least a satisfying end thereto ).
To be sure, this isn't achieved without some assistancespecifically, the filming of a biopic focusing on the poet's enduring pursuit of Maud Gonne, starring English actor John Eastman as the melancholy wordspinner and a Hollywood star whose name we never learn as his elusive Muse. Rather than keep company with his co-workers, John has decided that lodging with an actual family on location will give him a better understanding of his persona's environment, as well as a reprieve from his sorrow over his mother's recent passing.
He receives both, and more, from his hostsbeginning with 30-something Rose, who shows him to his room and stays to comfort him with snuggles in the sheets, and quickly followed by 70-year-old clan matriarch Lily, now adrift in memories evoked by popular tunes from the 1930s and '40s preserved on old records, who charms him with a gentle gallantry. The other two Kennedy granddaughters, Judith and Maud, are preoccupied with their respective swains ( Judith's beau can't make up his mind whether to pursue a career playing chess in the city and Maud's fancies himself a political radical ), while their father plans his days around the hours at the local pub. The malaise holding this unhappy tribe inert is also the absence of a maternal figurein this case, the Kennedy daughter/wife/mother who ran away to London fifteen years earlier, leaving her kin to ponder the rejection implicit in her flight.
Devising a happy resolution to these woes is a struggle, but Rebecca Lenkiewicz accomplishes it in a script that director Elly Green and a cast of Strawdog ensemble regulars embrace with warmth and gusto making for a congenial yarn progressing at comfortably unhurried velocity for its two-and-a-half-hour duration. Playgoers of literary bent are free to amuse themselves looking for textual references to Chekhov, Shakespeare, Friel and, of course, William Butler you-know-who, but merely spending time with characters as engaging as these is a worthy evening's investment, too.