Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Swansong" & "Bottom of The Lake"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"Bottom of The Lake"

by Conor McDermottroe

Set Design by Andrew McAuliffe
Scenic Painters Sara Fraser & Jill Pabich
Sound Design by Stephen Russell
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
House Manager Dominique Burford
Stage Manager Carolyn Boyd

"Bottom of The Lake"

Directed by Tim Ruddy

Raymie..............Gordon Miles Woods
Joesie.................Stephen Russell


Originally Directed by David Sullivan

Occi.............Tim Ruddy

"Well let it end here, then --- if nobody minds."
She said that to me, To Me, right there in my front-row first-balcony seat, and she was Julie Harris being I swear Joan of Arc and it was 1952 and I will never forget it. They could paste that sentence on my tombstone, it's meant so much to me. But, after something like that, something so smooth and warm it fits you like a pair of soft leather gloves, you don't want to touch it, not with Your words, not after being so lovingly enveloped in perfection there in the dimness. There's nothing you want to say, need to say, even to the person sat next to you, had the same experience --- or maybe not --- and all you want to do is walk home, or partway-home, carrying that indescribable inner glow with you down to the train and home to a desk, hoping if you're very, very lucky words will come that, clumsy at best, can somehow suggest what an incredible experience awaits the reader. It's the gift for a reviewer to be able to tell people something of what happened on that stage --- words are his gift, even though in their inadequate imperfection they are as well his curse. Yet they will come when they will come. The readiness is all. And this is, already, a year-full of superlatives.

Take the pair of beautiful plays Tir Na will be doing at the BCA till 14 March. As "Bottom of The Lake" opens, there in the merest whisper of Karen Perlow's delicate lights two men sit in a boat --- half a boat, actually, the near side implied --- arguing whether they just heard the bells strike twelve, or eleven. It's New Year's Eve and they're out to catch the first salmon of the season --- but take a fish before midnight and the bailiff will confiscate it, while dozens of others may wait on the dark lake to snatch a legal post-midnight catch. The younger man is eager, nervous, quarrelsome, his quieter mentor patiently cautious. They've had this argument every year, because --- aah, I'll not be telling that. Suffice it to say eagerness is not always the best mood for fish-catching, and some fishermen have long, sober memories. Stephen Russell and Gordon Myles Woods are as perfectly matched as an Irish Laurel & Hardy, with always a chilly edge of subtext waiting to upset everything.

In "Swansong" it's a lone, lonely "Ockie" come down to riverside to feed his favorite swan --- and old-lady lost her cob, and they mate for life so they say. Afore long he's spun out the story of his entire life, the life of a pugnacious brawler leans on people when he needs money, and can beat a man to death, or half, who calls him ... something unacceptible. Been like that since school. Of course, the bashing he took when he elected to roll down a hillside inside a barrel might have aggravated things. Days in the clink or hospital or the mental-ward are what he pays for joyous triumphs with his fists, but there's more than combat in this complicated soul, and strangely discovered moments of beauty and joy, friendship and love guardedly peeking out between the battles and battering.

I see I was right, and nothing said here can explain how luminously beautiful these two short plays are. Tim Ruddy is Occi, and Gordon Miles Woods and Stephen Russell the boatload of fishermen, and their delivery of Conor McDermottroe's words is as delicately subtle as the whisp of pink lighting clouds that Sara Fraser and Jill Pabich painted on the back wall. They can fall to a whisper, or gather thoughts in a pause, mime beating a man or rolling a cigarette, and have the audience breathlessly wait for more. Had me waiting, at least. And at the end, just as it did when the lights faded on Julie Harris, there is, I'm sure every night, a second or so of breathless silence while everyone reminds themselves that this isn't reality: it's a play. A magnificent, magnificently acted play. You have to see it to believe me.


"Swansong" & "Bottom of The Lake" (26 February - 14 March)
Tir Na Theater Company
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide