Chicago Theater Review: THE VEIL (Idle Muse Theatre Company at The Edge Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on August 21, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


How have the mighty fallen! It’s hard to believe that, 17 years after The Weir fascinated Steppenwolf Theatre audiences, not to mention all-absorbing Chicago productions of Shining City and The Night Alive, the passionately poetic Irish playwright Conor McPherson has wrought The Veil.

Now at Edge Theatre in a technically polished and competently helmed Midwest premiere from Idle Muse Theatre Company, this 2011 fabrication is indefatigably staged by Ann Kreitman. Their hard work goes utterly unrewarded. It hurts to know that a once-driven writer perpetrated this nearly three-hour theatrical wasteland.

A paen to a lost Ireland, The Veil is set in 1822 at Mount Prospect, a dilapidated country home near Jamestown. The demesne and its downtrodden village have plunged into poverty and debt, their only hope an arranged marriage between sad-faced daughter Hannah Lambroke (Ashley Crowe) and an unseen British lord who lives in Northampton. But this manse is, symbolically and actually, a haunted house.

Reluctant to be bartered in an estate-saving marriage, Hannah is not quite right: Demure, then demented, the lady, visited by spirits of the past or future, hears voices. Prepping her for her future as an English noblewoman are a defrocked local minister Reverent Berkeley (Scott Olson) and another disgraced character, English visitor and plagiarist Charles Audell (Nathan Pease). But the odd duo’s real interest in counseling Hannah is to release the ghosts of “elemental darkness” who have converged on Mt. Prospect, trapped by dirty deeds done there and guilt that haunts as much as ectoplasm.

The household consists of patented Celtic/Gaelic/Emerald Isle loonies: a demented matriarch who once saw a king with mirrors for eyes (Jean Marie Koon); a drunken steward with a disreputable resume (Ross Frawley); the merry cook who believes in fairies and magic (Leslie Hull); Hannah’s mother Lady Madeline (Alison Dornheggen), working overtime to deny the demons that plague this place and drained by “the sheer effort to appear normal”; and a love-besotted maid who wants to escape to Canada (Catherine Dvorak).

Talkative and trite, the eight secret-sharing characters are the plot since, as opaque as its title, The Veil is blatantly unfocused, mired in scattershot scenes, empty and endless exposition, and a declamatory/flowery rhetoric and bilious blarney that pass for dialogue. Worst is McPherson’s mumbo-jumbo hokum and gasbag speechifying about ancient folklore and modern superstition, describing to death how the spiritual disruption of “echoes from the past” gets triggered by a séance that turns into an exorcism.

With no real conflict, the only ascertainable action occurs offstage: A supposed invasion from the next world (or imminent future, it doesn’t matter a hoot) triggers the lethal collapse of a terraced slum dwelling owned by the family. Only here—and just tangentially–does McPherson hint at the economic oppression wreaked by the landed-gentry Lambrokes on luckless local renters.

Eschewing ideological arguments or historical reclamation, The Veil has no direction or destination: The increasingly exasperating vignettes seem to make themselves up as they go. It’s not Ann Kreitman’s fault: No amount of disciplined direction could sort out or make sense of McPherson’s hodgepodge of worthless revelations, unproductive plotting, and silly set speeches. His dreary and static script takes forever to go nowhere and has at least three endings (but no resolution since nothing was at stake). It could tax the patience of the most masochistic theatergoer.

photos courtesy of Idle Muse Theatre Company

The Veil
Idle Muse Theatre Company
The Edge Theater, 5451 N Broadway
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on September 17, 2017
for tickets, call 773.340.9438 or visit Idle Muse

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