August 23, 2010

The Mint Theater is certainly making an elegant case that the Abbey Theater in Dublin missed an opportunity almost 70 years ago when it declined to produce “Wife to James Whelan,” a drama by Teresa Deevy (1894-1963), whose six previous plays had been staged to some acclaim there.

The Mint’s production of this rediscovered work — a nephew of Deevy found the forgotten script in the 1990s — is beautifully played under Jonathan Bank’s direction, on a lovely stonework set by Vicki R. Davis. Yes, the story seems rickety; a lot rides on characters’ inability to say some obvious things, and women are inexplicably drawn to the title character (Shawn Fagan), who by today’s standards would be considered an abusive Type A jerk. But the production is never less than compelling.

We first meet James and the woman he loves, Nan Bowers (Janie Brookshire), when they are young and on the verge of being betrothed. A job calls James to Dublin from their small town, and the two part inconclusively, the first of several times in the play when Deevy explores the dangers of not saying what is in your heart. By Act II it is seven years later, James is a successful businessman, and Nan, who married someone else, is a widow in need of a job.

Deevy was deaf, and perhaps that somehow shaped two of this play’s strongest characters: friends who speak bluntly to James but can’t seem to make themselves heard by this driven, somewhat egotistical man.

One, an employee named Tom, is played by Aidan Redmond; the other, Kate, a lifelong sidekick who wishes she and James had been more than friends, is played by Rosie Benton. Both actors are just right, asserting their presence when the script calls for it but never overpowering the leads.