Off-Broadway Review: MADE BY GOD (Irish Rep)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on February 28, 2022

in Theater-New York

VIRGIN PLAY GETS TESTED AT IRISH REP

Ciara Ní Chuirc’s new play Made By God, now being given its world premiere run by Irish Rep, is described in the show’s promotional materials thusly: Made by God features the true and tragic story of the 1984 death of Ann Lovett and her newborn baby in Granard, County Longford. Her pregnancy was reportedly unknown to all, including her family, and no social services were open to the pregnant teen. Shortly before Ann’s death, a referendum in Ireland established the 8th Amendment: deeming the right to life of an “unborn” equal to the life of a pregnant woman. In 2018, shortly after Made by God is set, the 8th Amendment was repealed by a referendum.

McKenna Quigley Harrington, Briana Gibson Reeves, and Daniel Marconi

While the show does use Miss Lovett’s heart-rending tale as a jumping off point, the play actually centers on the ethical and religious struggles of Eva, a young American podcaster who — fascinated with Ann’s story — travels to Ireland in 2018 to research this tragic event for an episode of her podcast. In the process, we learn that Eva is also a Pro-Life advocate and her trip was funded by her American church as part of an effort to encourage a NO vote on the 8th Amendment Repeal Referendum. But a tragic event in Eva’s life has shaken her once secure faith and Pro-Life beliefs. The play positions Eva as a kind of alternate Ann; both are young women in need of help, yet their intensifying crises aren’t recognized by others.

Daniel Marconi and McKenna Quigley Harrington

Within this framework, the show also scrutinizes the Catholic faith itself, the efficacy of prayer, the authenticity of Holy Visitations, mental illness, small town hypocrisy, auditory hallucination, Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice and teenage love. To be sure, Ms. Ní Chuirc’s play does have some sections of very compelling writing. Regrettably, the writing can also be meandering and muddled. Since Ms. Lovett’s experience is ultimately used to tell someone else’s story, the play inadvertently treats Ms. Lovett with the same surface concern that she apparently experienced in real life.

Erica Hernandez

Olivia Songer’s direction is unfocused and vague. Actors often upstage each other or seem not sure where to move. The podcast set-up on a rolling cart is already too big for the stage, yet it remains there for all 90 minutes. Granted, the intimate McLucas Studio Theatre at Irish Rep is not an ideal space for a play like this which features multiple time periods and locations; but with a little more creative effort, those spatial limitations could probably have been overcome. Lindsay Fuori’s wall-hugging grotto set unreasonably dwarfs the entire playing area. While the design effectively looks like a cave, its monochromatic flat grey color reads more like a primer coat than the otherworldly location it may have been intended to represent. Since the play has multiple locations, it’s unclear why this one realistic design was made permanent over other locations the play visits.

Briana Gibson Reeves

Luckily, the creative team has cast very good actors who rise above the mostly hazy proceedings. McKenna Quigley Harrington as Ann and Erica Hernandez as Eva both deliver genuinely moving portraits; both are performers of depth, humor and intelligence. Ms. Hernandez also brings a quirky, stop/start quality to Eva that is very endearing. However, the characters go into very intense emotional territory and both actresses descend into lengthy emotional histrionics, losing sight of clarity and logic. It’s unfortunate these two talents did not have stronger support to help them navigate the very difficult spaces into which the text demands they go.

Ciaran Byrne

Ciaran Byrne as Michael and Daniel Marconi as Mikey, his teenage self, fare better, but, then again, neither are asked to do the emotional heavy lifting required of Eva and Ann. Both men deliver believable, grounded performances of the also victimized Michael/Mikey — a teenager who fell in love, got dumped, and was then rejected in his efforts to help Ann, his suffering former girlfriend. Marconi is especially touching in his farewell words to his deceased love, just a few years after her death.

Briana Gibson Reeves

Briana Reeves Gibson has the seemingly thankless job of portraying The Virgin Mary. Not just The Virgin Mary but The Virgin Mary as play narrator, stone statue, actual Virgin Mary, imagined Virgin Mary, Virgin Mary as a voice in Eva’s head and Virgin Mary as a pub waitress. However Ms. Gibson is more than up for the challenge and infuses her Virgin with a sly sense of humor and Gibson’s cultural identity. She also steeps her deity in the aloofness, authority and judgment of a parochial school nun. Her smug intimation at the end of the play that the horrific events we’ve just witnessed are only a “test of faith” is enough to make any wavering Catholic head for the church exit.

Erica Hernandez and Ciaran Byrne

Buoyed by heartfelt performances, Made By God is a show full of reasons to go someplace but unsure how to get there. Hopefully, it will soon find a map and clearly arrive with its reasons and insights fully intact.

Briana Gibson Reeves and Erica Hernandez

photos by Carol Rosegg

Made by God
Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, NYC
ends on March 20, 2022
for tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit Irish Rep

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