Playwright: Hugh Leonard
At: Irish Repertory of Chicago at Victory Gardens, 2257 N. Lincoln
Phone: 773-871-3000; $34-$38
Runs through: July 2
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
In her own mind—or that of whoever is narrating this play—Catherine Creighan will forever be the mischievous 20-year-old waif that she was in 1932, and so that's how she appears to US. Her daughter, Triona, is depicted as the proper white glove-, pillbox hat- and pearl-wearing matron SHE was in 1964 at the age of 30. And we meet her granddaughter, Katie, as a 37-year-old bluestocking in 1999. These time-traveling ladies have gathered at the seashore—to be exact, at a spot dominated by a large and ludicrously phallic rock upon which they scramble as costumes permit. And, as is often the case when male playwrights purport to write of women exchanging confidences, their conversation focuses on sex, marriage, children and 'tearing men to pieces, as God intended'.
But having set up his thesis—'Life must be lived forward and understood backwards'—author Hugh Leonard seems unsure what to do with it. The Irish Repertory of Chicago Theatre Company's publicity claims his play to be a symposium on gender liberation in 20th-century Ireland, but while his three graces represent their historical periods with passable, if uneven, accuracy—Eamon De Valera, John F. Kennedy, Philip Larkin, Patrick Cavanaugh, Andrew Marvell, smoking cigarettes and dancing the twist are all referenced—his mosaic literary structure effectively sabotages any continuity suggesting a linear PLOT lurking amid the scattershot flashbacks.
So just who's telling this story, anyway? Granny Catherine repeatedly appeals to her offspring to complete her biography, raising the suspicion that both she and Mommy Triona might be fantasy constructs conjured by Katie, a writer of novels 'with 'Love' in the titles'. If Leonard's insights were as profound as his repartee is self-consciously clever ( 'You missed the boat!' scolds Triona, to which Katie retorts, 'I wasn't even on the pier!' ) , we might have the emotional incentive to struggle along with the intellectual vertigo for the play's two-hour running time.
For all the impediments Leonard's script imposes on this Irish Repertory production, however, the trio of Julie Daley, Erin Myers and Alyson Green emerge as attractive and engaging, their sororal camaraderie winning us over even when we don't have a bloody clue what they're talking about.