Theatre Mirror Reviews - "At The Black Pig's Dyke"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey

Sugan's Wicker Ways

A Review by Beverly Creasey

The Sugan Theatre Company continues to keep us in touch with contemporary Irish theater by presenting vibrant, cutting-edge drama ... like their current "At The Blind Pig's Dyke".

The dyke of the title isn't really a dyke, it's more of a giant trench running straight across the country, separating Ulster from the rest of Ireland. Legend has it that a mythical pig burrowed across the island causing a natural divide. This Black Pig has been celebrated in song and story for centuries, and now playwright Vincent Woods again revives the beast. This haunting, lyrical work manages to capture both the ethereal and the diabolical by anchoring the play to one family's tragic end. Woods dances around the event, letting us in slowly on the dark forces at work.

The play is a daring mixture of the poetic, the gothic, the comic and the political. Not only does Woods conjure up the ancient myth, he makes the historical inevitable. and he gets to make a powerful political statement about violence in Ireland today.

For those of us not in Philadelphia where they hold an annual Mummers Parade, knowledge of these straw-masked entertainers is apt to come from Thomas Hardy's novel THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE. By introducing mummers into his play, Woods imbues the story with mystical and primeval resonance --- and it ratchets up the suspense. These frightening "wicker men" conjure up to us Americans horrific images of hooded night riders descending upon innocent families. Woods' setting may be Ireland, but violence and fear are universal. He taps into a collective unconscious. The drumbeat of the bodhran sounds as African as it does Celtic, and the straw medicine man looks for all the world like an African witch doctor. Woods' play fairly pulses with dread.

Sugan's productions are always formidable ensemble presentations, and this is no exception. Director Carmel O'Reilly --- who also plays the mother/narrator of the story --- keeps the pace brisk and the tone edgy. Even though we know what is coming, it's still shocking. Irene Daily too plays a number of roles, and does so with grace and intensity. Karen Woodward and George Saulnier are the stock "Fools" in the traditional mummers play, providing laughter and, at a moment's turn, eerie, sardonic commentary. Woodward is charged with electricity; both she and Saulnier possess the wonderful light touch of the slightly mad. Ciaran Crawford, Sid Quilty, Bill Meleady and Douglas Rainey all perform with immense skill. These are seamless performances; you won't see better work anywhere.

Mick Spense's masks and costumes are straw miracles, and have personalities of their own.. Even the straw on the floor seems to dance in the strange, hazy light by Marc Klureza. Ger Cooney and Susan Dibble's dances, featuring Deirdre and Maureen Lenihan as death figures, send chills up and down the spine.

"At The Black Pig's Dyke" (till 10 April)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide