August 23, 2010

Teresa Deevy’s Wife to James Whelan might be described as a battle of the sexes that features an intense love-hate relationship. But almost everything about Deevy’s crisp psychological drama, which was lost for decades after being rejected by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre nearly 70 years ago, is richer and subtler than those terms imply. James (Shawn Fagan) is introduced as a confident-to-the-point-of-cocky working-class 25-year-old who’s leaving the small town of Kilbeggan to take a job in Dublin for six months. He says he’ll return and then maybe marry Nan Bowers (Janie Brookshire); but both are too proud to ask the other for a promise. Seven years later, James has found financial fulfillment and is about to launch a bus line in his hometown when Nan, now a destitute widow with a young son, begs him for a job. Once again, pride—now compounded by class difference—threatens to snuff any tender feelings between them, as does the presence of the flirtatious Nora Keane (Liv Rooth), whose father James once worked for, and Kate Moran (Rosie Benton), a friend in whom James takes comfort.

Mint Theater Company artistic director Jonathan Bank and his cast deftly expose the passion and strength of the characters, with Fagan punctuating James’s insecurity over his new wealth with fiery shifts in his feelings for Nan. The play is not flawless—Nan’s final revelation doesn’t pack the wallop it should—but it is intricate and emotionally affecting. If this piece is any indication, then Deevy, who gave up playwriting for radio dramas, deserves the reissue she is getting from the Mint.