note: entire contents copyright 2002 by M.A. Holmes
M.A. Holmes (781-962-6346) Nora Hussey and the Wellesley Summer Theatre have created a poignant, moving event in "The Clearing" now being presented through January 26 at Alumnae Hall at Wellesley College. Set in County Kildare in 1652, "The Clearing" is the very personal account of the public beginnings of The Troubles, just after Oliver Cromwell has destroyed most of Ireland.
The play opens as Madeleine Preston (Alicia Kahn) has just given birth to a son. Madeleine is the young Irish wife of Robert Preston (Derek Stone Nelson) a landed Englishman. Their fine house in the Irish countryside neighbors that of Solomon and Susaneh Winter (Bern Budd, Jennifer Jones Barton) who bestow their blessings upon the newborn. The Winters, who are English, have resided in Ireland for thirty years, ever since the English government requested its residents to assist in populating Ireland. Now they are to be "transplanted" with hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens to the lands west of the River Shannon because the English government now counts them enemies of the state.
Lest the gentle reader be overtaxed by the Irish history lesson, Director Hussey has taken pains to provide adequate background articles in the lobby including maps.
Even without the additional information, Helen Edmundson's story is clear in its message that peace cannot be achieved through violence. Taken as an allegory and viewed through the lens of 2002 America, this story of foreign invasion and occupation, neighbor betraying neighbor, spouse betraying spouse, resonates. This story could very well have been set in Wyoming of the 1850s or Kosovo in the mid 1990s. Or New England circa 1775.
This is an incredible theatrical presentation, simple in its design and oh so complex in its emotions. Hussey has staged the play with a minimum of design, using light and shadow to suggest changes in locale. My one complaint would be the lack of props. Hussey chooses to have the actors pantomime pens, letters and the like, sometimes without success. Bern Budd and Jennifer Jones Barton are steadfast in their roles, defying the government to cause them more harm than has already come to them. Both actors shine in the face of impending doom. Alicia Kahn is breathtaking as Madeleine especially when she threatens the authorities (in the form of Stephen Cooper as Sir Charles Sturman) with Irish Witchcraft. Lauren Balmer as Killaine Farrell, Madeleine's servant and friend, is both gentle and ethereal. Derry Woodhouse brings an extra note of authenticity to his role as Pierce Kinsellagh, a friend of Madeleine and Killain who has joined the opposition forces. The moments between Madeleine and Pierce are especially poignant. I walked away from this passionate, sorrowful play feeling very much invigorated for I had seen great theater.