The Suitcase Under the Bed, so named for the place where all of Teresa Deevy’s writing was stored for decades, prior to the launch of Mint Theater Company’s “Deevy Project”, features four short plays, three of which will be the World Premieres. Deevy, thanks in part to the Mint, is now recognized as “One of Ireland’s best and most neglected dramatists.” (Irish Times)

“Thank heaven for the unwavering commitment of Jonathan Bank, the theatrical archaeologist whose Mint Theater Company unearths long-forgotten plays and imbues them with new life. Perhaps his greatest discovery is Teresa Deevy. [Bank] clearly adores Deevy, and ultimately so will the audience.”  (The New York Times)

Another name for this evening of short plays might be “Three Proposals and a Break-up.” Each of Deevy’s four plays casts an unsentimental eye on the idea of marriage. One of the plays is even set against the backdrop of a wedding: “I was thinking of my marriage day when I was looking at them two, says Mrs. Marks in The King of Spain’s Daughter. “It is a thought would sadden anyone.”

Teresa Deevy had six plays produced by the Abbey Theatre between 1930 and 1936, and then the Abbey turned its back on her. Deevy’s next and perhaps best play (Wife to James Whelan) was rejected, effectively ending her career as an Abbey playwright.  “I must just make an opening elsewhere,” she wrote to a friend, and then began to write for the radio—a remarkable turn of events, given that she was completely deaf.  She lost her hearing due to an illness in her late teens and was never able to hear her beautifully-crafted dialogue spoken.

In 2010, Mint Theater Company re-introduced author Teresa Deevy to the world with our acclaimed production of Wife to James Whelan, the first of three full productions we gave this brilliant Irish woman. Deevy—a deaf playwright who turned to writing when her dreams of teaching were dashed after losing her hearing at the age of twenty—ended her career writing plays for the radio.

Suitcase… features the world premiere of three plays: Holiday House, In the Cellar of My Friend, and Strange Birth. The evening will also include Deevy’s best-known one-act, The King of Spain’s Daughter.

“Love unexpected, unachieved, lost, or bargained for is at the core of these sketches, but always with a mysterious, not so wry twist that reveals something deep in the Irish, and the human, character.” (The New Yorker)

STRANGE BIRTH (World Premiere)
Sara Meade works at a small rooming house where she observes with determined detachment the heartache of each resident; a caution against falling in love herself. Suddenly the day’s post brings a letter that challenges her resolve.

This delicate, sweet play was published twice but had never before been staged.

IN THE CELLAR OF MY FRIEND (World Premiere)

Belle believes that she and Barney came to an understanding last night, but she arrives at his home this morning to a great surprise and a new understanding. A hint of mysticism adds to the mystery of this haunting play.

HOLIDAY HOUSE (World Premiere)

It’s August at the seaside and the family is arriving for the summer holiday. Derek expects to be the center of attention, the one thing they all have in common. There will be Doris to whom he was once engaged, Jil to whom he is now married, and his brother Neil, now married to Doris.

THE KING OF SPAIN’S DAUGHTER
“Annie Kinsella was born with romance in her soul,” the Irish Independent wrote when The King of Spain’s Daughter premiered at the Abbey in 1935. “To her, life was the splendid glowing vision of a poet…yet she lived among peasants who saw her romanticism as wildness and folly, and merely called her liar when the splendor of her imagination gave the semblance of reality to her dreams.”

TERESA DEEVY
(1894-1963)

Teresa Deevy was born on January 21, 1894 at Landscape, her family’s home in Waterford. She was the youngest of 13 children. Her father ran a successful draper’s shop in Waterford city but died when Teresa was only two. She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford and in 1913, enrolled at University College, Dublin. She wanted to become a teacher, but after a few months, was struck by a mysterious illness. Doctors eventually diagnosed her with Meniere’s disease, an incurable condition caused by fluid imbalance in the inner ear. By 1914, at the age of 20, Deevy had completely lost her hearing. Struggling to hear lectures, she left school and went to London to study lip-reading.

While in London, Deevy often went to the theater—reading the plays first, when possible, then following them on the stage in order to practice her lip-reading. One night, while returning home from the theatre, she felt very strongly the urge to put “the sort of life we live in Ireland” into a play. About this same time, Deevy read a copy of Shaw’s Heartbreak House. Shaw had called it “a fantasy in the Russian manner on English themes,” and as she described in a 1952 autobiographical note: “I said proudly to myself my play will be ‘a fantasy in the Russian manner on Irish themes.’—But there was a long way to go…”

It was an unusual ambition. Deevy had no theatrical connections. As a woman and as a person who was deaf, she didn’t fit the then-typical image of a playwright. However, she returned to Ireland undaunted and began writing. In 1925, at age 31, Deevy finally felt ready to send her plays to the Abbey, Ireland’s national theater. They were rejected, but one reader had been particularly impressed. This was Lennox Robinson, the Abbey’s managing director and a playwright himself. (Mint audiences may remember his Is Life Worth Living? from 2009). He encouraged her to keep writing.

In 1930, at Robinson’s urging, the Abbey accepted Deevy’s Reapers, a sweeping family epic set in a rural “big house.” (The play is now lost.) It was followed in 1931 by a one-act comedy, A Disciple. In 1932, Deevy won first prize in the Abbey’s new play contest with Temporal Powers (seen at the Mint in 2011). After seeing Temporal Powers, author Frank O’Connor sent her this note: “When I saw Reapers, I knew something was happening. When I saw your new play, I realized it had happened with a vengeance.”

The years from 1930 to 1936 were among the most productive in Deevy’s life. She moved to Dublin with her sister, Nell, who served as a companion and interpreter. In 1935, the Abbey produced her one-act The King of Spain’s Daughter, followed by her most enduring full-length play, Katie Roche, in 1936 (Mint, 2013). Telling the story of an illegitimate servant girl who longs to achieve greatness, Katie Roche was produced in Dublin and London and was included in the Abbey’s 1937 American tour. It was also published in Victor Gollancz’s influential anthology “Famous Plays.” In the same year that Katie Roche premiered, the Abbey performed Deevy’s historical play, The Wild Goose. As Christopher Morash notes in Teresa Deevy Reclaimed, Volume Two: “It made for an astonishing burst of creativity: six new plays in as many years.” Indeed, by 1936, Teresa Deevy was considered one of Ireland’s most promising playwrights.

In 1938, Deevy’s one-act play Holiday House was accepted by the Abbey and a contract was signed. Ultimately, the contract lapsed. Not long after, a letter appeared in the Irish Times complaining about play selection at the Abbey and including Deevy in a list of authors who recently had work turned down. Deevy, never one to enjoy status as a victim, promptly fired off a correction to the Times: “I would like to point out that this play (Holiday House) was accepted by the Abbey more than twelve months ago, and a contract for production was sent to me.” Her letter, which was published in the Times, mentions “evasive replies” from the management in response to her inquiries about scheduling, and finally notification “that the directors did not intend to keep their contract.”

No doubt, Deevy’s attempt to publicly shame the Abbey management did little to endear her to them going forward, and her next play, Wife to James Whelan (Mint, 2010) was bluntly rejected. She wrote to her friend Florence Hackett, describing the rejection: “[Ernest] Blythe’s letter when returning it showed clearly that he had no use for my work—never asked to see any more…However I must just make an opening elsewhere, and it may be a good thing to be finished with the Abbey. Yet I love the Abbey and the actors are fine.”

Deevy turned her attention to the burgeoning field of radio. In the years following 1938, she wrote over a dozen plays for the B.B.C. and Radio Éireann, as well as adapted her stage plays for broadcast.

Deevy eventually managed to find other venues for her stage work: Wife to James Whelan was produced at Dublin’s tiny Studio Theatre in 1956. Light Falling was the curtain-raiser for Jack McGowran’s production of Shadow of A Gunman at London’s Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in 1957.

Deevy’s beloved sister Nell died in February 1954. In October of the same year, she was elected to the Irish Academy of Letters, Ireland’s highest literary honor, though without Nell the triumph was bittersweet. “I must lay out my life in a way conducive to work,” Deevy wrote to a friend after the death of Nell. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Throughout the rest of the decade, she maintained a strong connection to the close-knit world of her family home in Waterford, where she was a familiar figure, riding around the city on her bicycle, and attending daily mass. Poet Sean Dunn recalled her eccentric reputation:

In the Fifties, she was a thin woman on a bicycle, her gray hair tucked under one of an assortment of strange hats. She rode through the streets of Waterford and those who knew her tensed as she passed in case a car might hit her. She heard nothing and just cycled on with the nonchalance of a girl cycling along a country lane. Her clothes never seemed to match. She was seen wearing sandals or runners even in the middle of winter. Some people thought she’d once written plays. Others knew it, but it was a long time ago.

In her final years, Deevy’s vertigo—a recurrent symptom of Meniere’s—worsened. Hardly able to stand on her own, and losing her eyesight, she was moved to Maypark Nursing Home. She died there on January 19, 1963. James Cheasty, a poet and one of her protégés, wrote in her obituary for the Irish Independent:

As a person Teresa Deevy was, first of all, heroic. She did not allow herself to be oppressed by a severe physical handicap which would have daunted countless others of lesser courage. The fact that she achieved success as a writer in spite of this handicap was, to say the least, remarkable. But she was a remarkable woman in many ways. Her kindness and simplicity of manner were well known to all those who had the pleasure of knowing her. Truly it can be said of her that she had the humility of the great.

Cast

Ellen Adair
Gina Costigan
Sarah Nicole Deaver
Cynthia Mace
Aidan Redmond
Colin Ryan
A.J. Shively / Niall Powderly

Creatives

  • Sets Vicki R. Davis
  • Costumes Andrea Varga
  • Lights Zach Blane
  • Sound Jane Shaw
  • Props Joshua Yocom
  • Dialects & Dramaturgy Amy Stoller
  • Casting Stephanie Klapper, CSA
  • Production Stage Manager Pamela Edington / Heather Arnson
  • Stage Manager Jeff Meyers
  • Production Manager Adam Gabel
  • Asst Director Samuel-James DeMattio
  • Illustration Stefano Imbert
  • Graphics Hey Jude Design, Inc.
  • Advertising The Pekoe Group
  • Press David Gersten & Associates

BRUNCH WITH JACQUI DEEVY

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9 at noon

Brunch and pre-show talk with Jacqui Deevy before matinee performance of SUITCASE. Attendees received a copy of “Teresa Deevy Reclaimed: Volume One” signed by Jacqui Deevy, Teresa’s grandniece, literary executor and keeper of the flame – a role she inherited from her father.  Jacqui grew up in Waterford, living at Landscape, the Deevy family home for more than 125 years where Teresa was born and lived. Jacqui shared her thoughts on the the plays included in The Suitcase Under the Bed and told stories of the Deevy family.

Post Show Talk: Meet the Designers

SATURDAY, JULY 22 after the matinee

Director Jonathan Bank and his design team discussed the process, the production and the four one-act plays.

POST SHOW TALK: EMILY C. BLOOM, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

SATURDAY, JULY 29 after the matinee

Emily Bloom, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She specializes in Anglophone late modernism spanning the 1930s through the 1960s. She has published articles on the poetry broadcasts of W.B. Yeats, 1950s radio drama, and performance traditions in the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Her book, The Wireless Past: Anglo-Irish Writers and the BBC, 1931-1968, chronicles the emergence of the British Broadcasting Corporation as a significant promotional platform and aesthetic influence for Irish modernism. Emily’s talk will place Teresa Deevy in the context of Irish Writers who found success in radio and television broadcasting.

JACQUI DEEVY, GRANDNIECE AND LITERARY EXECUTOR OF TERESA DEEVY

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10 after the matinee

Jacqui is Teresa’s grandniece, literary executor and keeper of the flame – a role she inherited from her father.  Jacqui grew up in Waterford, living in the Landscape, the Deevy family home for more than 125 years, where Teresa was born and lived. Jacqui will share her thoughts on the the plays included in The Suitcase Under the Bed and tell stories of the Deevy family.

LOVE AND MARRIAGE IN TERESA DEEVY’S IRELAND
Tara Harney-Mahajan, PhD

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 17 after the matinee

Tara Harney-Mahajan received her PhD in English from the University of Connecticut and is currently the co-Editor of the literary journal LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century Irish literature with a focus on women writers.  With Claire Bracken, Tara has just co-edited a double special issue on Irish women’s writing entitled “A Continuum of Irish Women’s Writing I & II: Reflections on the Post-Celtic Tiger Era.” Her scholarship has been published in the journal Women’s Studies as well as New Hibernia Review and The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Tara’s talk will place Teresa Deevy in the context of other Irish Women writers and will focus on the play’s theme of marriage in early 20th century Ireland.

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