Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Clearing"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey

Ambitious "Clearing"
in Wellesley

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Everyone knows about the bad blood between England and Ireland but most of us don't know the history behind the hatred or how far back it stretches. Helen Edmundson's "The Clearing" is written in the same (varicose) vein of Brian Friel's luminous "Translations" (also a love story set against political upheaval) but "The Clearing" covers Cromwell's ruthless attempt at ethnic cleansing --- "transplanting" Irish to the West Indies in 1850 and hanging those who refused to clear out. And Edmundson sets the history in her play around a "bodice-ripper".

The Romance between an English gentleman and an Irish lass unravels when the Englishman has to choose sides to protect his property. Nora Hussey directs her talented company --- and it is a treat to see the same actors in the company in different roles --- with considerable restraint, given that "The Clearing" is a full blown melodrama.

Wellesley Summer Theater regulars Derek Nelson and Alicia Kahn make a handsome couple, but Stephen Cooper as a flamboyant evil overseer and Derry Woodhouse as a dashing Irish rebel have all the fun chewing up the scenery --- Gorgeous projections, for the most part, by Ken Loewit and Wiz White. Ken Flott, too, deserves special mention for making three cameos smile.

Jennifer Jones provides what little comic relief there is in this sombre tale, as Bern Budd's headstrong and indignant wife. Lauren Balmer (as Kahn's beloved childhood friend) reminded me of Hahn's alter-ego in the WST's "Jane Eyre" --- so strongly that I couldn't shake the notion. Theirs is the more interesting love story, anyway: Kahn's rebellious "lady of the manor" chooses her friend over her husband after all. Edmundson succeeds in placing them in historical context and WST is to be commended for showing us the play she wrote in response to the war in Bosnia.

"2002 Ritalin Readings" (4 & 5 January)
Peabody House Theatre, 277 Broadway, SOMERVILLE
1(617) 625-1300 .

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide