Chicago Theater Review: DEIRDRE OF THE SORROWS (City Lit at Edgewater Presbyterian Church)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 11, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


It’s the last play written by John Millington Synge. This Irish minstrel-playwright died in 1909 at only 37 after penning stunning beauties—Riders to the Sea and his masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World. Synge never saw his final offering Deirdre of the Sorrows. (It was last done in Chicago 100 years ago.) So it’s not surprising that these three death-haunted acts wrestle with the choice of decaying into a forgetful old age or expiring young at the height of destiny if not happiness.

Now Chicago’s City Lit revives this incandescently written paean to an ancient heroine, a worthy staging by Kay Martinovich and her ten-person ensemble. The result—105 minutes of enthralling, if sometimes mystifying, poetry—is worth a hundred-year-wait. Almost music in its melodiousness, Synge’s script abounds in gorgeous nature imagery, soaring cadences of unashamed lyricism, and arch and bittersweet exchanges.

Based on Irish legend and greatly resembling the equally fateful lovers’ legend of Tristan and Isolde (as well as the curse-laden House of Atreus plays by Aeschylus), Deirdre focuses on its title character, a beautiful and doomed lady who chooses love with Naisi, the equally young son of the accursed house of Usna, over dominion and even death.

Since her birth Deirdre, famous for comeliness and needlepoint, was prophesied to marry Conchubor, the much older King of Ulster. This quiet maiden has been reared by the wise and woeful old nurse Lavarcham to wed against her will. Faced with a loveless alliance, Deirdre flees northern Ireland to the wilder kingdom of Alan (Scotland). For seven years she lives contentedly with Naisi and his two brothers Ardan and Ainnle before she wreaks her own demise. Inexorably drawn to an early ending, death-wishing Deirdre returns with Naisi to Ulster: There treachery—slaughter and arson—awaits to destroy her love and their lives.

Throughout this two-part presentation you sense the playwright’s anguished struggle to confront his own mortality. His lovers, very persuasively played by lovely Natalie Joyce and valiant Alex Pappas, cannot imagine themselves old and their passion cold. A divination of “liebestod” may not be just what the doctor didn’t order but what deathless lovers desire beyond the grave.

Richly felt and perfectly accented performances abound on this second-floor stage—most notably the velvet-voiced Morgan McCabe as helpless Lavarcham, cunning and finally keening. Tim Kidwell is cluelessly patriarchal as lecherous Conchubor, Mark Pracht purposelessly proud as his defender Fergus, and Andrew Marikis sinister and relentless as spying Owen.

Synge’s speeches defy easy comprehension. But the actors’ undoubted conviction, palpable in every line they utter, supplies the rest. A powerful play gets concentrated into magic.

photos by Steve Graue

Deirdre of the Sorrows
City Lit
Edgewater Presbyterian Church
1020 West Bryn Mawr Ave.
Fri & Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3; Mon (Oct 2 & 9) at 7:30
ends on October 15, 2017
for tickets, call 773.293.3682 or visit City Lit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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