Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Home Place (The SOB Review)

The Home Place (The SOB Review) - McGuire Proscenium, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN

**1/2 (out of ****)

Home may be where the heart is. Yet in Brian Friel’s meandering, albeit sometimes poignant new play The Home Place, the old adage that you can never go home again also rings true.

Arguably one of Ireland's foremost living playwrights, Friel has teamed up with fellow Irishman Joe Dowling, who directs the American premiere of this often stagnant period piece that is, if nothing else, visually stunning.

Frank Hallinan Flood's set design, which features a cross-section of an upper-crust Big House alongside a lush thicket, is so gorgeous that it upstages the action or lack thereof on the stage. In fact, when the curtain rises, it receives more sustained applause than the play itself.

That may be because what looks great on paper -- and armed with both a cursory knowledge of 19th Century Ireland and Friel's frequently poetic script, I found that it does read very well -- does not necessarily translate well to an American stage despite the fine performances by its ensemble.

Problematic is the static nature of the first half of the opening act. While Friel informs so much of the rest of The Home Place during this set-up, it’s a tedious slog under Dowling’s direction. Too many of the critical clues Friel sprinkles into it are lost.

Friel's story centers on Anglo-Irishman Christopher Gore (Simon Jones), who lords over a Victorian era Irish estate and Big House. Margaret (Sarah Agnew), the local Irish chatelaine who has worked for Christopher since her youth, sees her life in the Big House as a way to escape her inherited hardships.

Margaret’s embarrassed by the hard-drinking stereotype her father (Charles Keating) has become, yet she remains captivated by the familiar strains of her father’s choir singing a Thomas Moore hymn in the distance. Margaret can only enjoy the song from the sanctuary of her chosen adopted world.

Because of his ancestry, Christopher is a man without a country. For better or worse, Christopher's English roots threaten to betray him at a time when Irish tenants are asserting themselves. Margaret on the other hand has long since eschewed, if not betrayed, her roots. By falling in love with Christopher's son David, she aspires to become the lady of the Big House -- aware that Christopher has deep-rooted feelings for her, yet unaware of the impending sea change that history would not be on her side.

Quickening that change is a murder of another, more malevolent English landlord. It's spurring fears that there’s a list of other potential targets of Anglo lineage. Even though he himself is painted sympathetically, compounding Christopher’s fears is his brother Richard’s dubious, racist research on breeding.

Evocative of “Minority Report,” Richard (Richard S. Iglewski) expounds on how his research will lead to an exact science to help determine motives -- including those more sinister -- based on race. When he commences his research on some of the locals, a firestorm erupts that threatens Christopher and Margaret's notions of home.

While I have little doubt that Irish audiences were sufficiently moved by The Home Place, it only marginally connects on this side of pond. But when it does, particularly on the important points regarding where the heart is on the subject of "home," it does so profoundly.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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7 Comments:

At 09 October, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve,

Do you have plans to see "Jerry Springer the Opera" ? I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Let me know,

Tom Karki

 
At 09 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Tom, I hadn't planned to take in Jerry Springer: The Opera at Minneapolis Musical Theatre. I had previously seen the original production on the London stage. Are you in the show?

 
At 10 October, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am indeed om the show. I am jealous that you saw the show in London. If you do come to see the show, let me know. I would love to meet you in person.

Have a great night.

Tom

 
At 10 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Tom - Which role do you portray?

 
At 10 October, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Montel/Jesus

 
At 10 October, 2007, Blogger Sean said...

Interesting review. Seeing the London production (transfered from Dublin), I just feelt that the play was too heavy handed (when he marks the trees!), not like Mr F's earlier works which I often love.

Look forward to a JSTO report! All good fun. I wonder if there have been any script chnges since the London production?

 
At 10 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Sean - The heavy-handed part you mentioned remains intact stateside. And yes, I agree with you on that point.

As for Jerry Springer: The Opera, I guess the only way I'll know for sure is if I see it again. As progressive as Minneapolis audiences are, I can't help but wonder if they know what's in store for them if it is the same book and score.

 

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