A large, gray cloud floats above the watercolor backdrops of the four short plays that make up The Suitcase Under the Bed. Not a storm cloud exactly, just a patch of worrisome sky that unsettles the sunny days of the many characters dreamed up by the late Irish playwright Teresa Deevy. It’s a conceit by scenic designer Vicki R. Davis, there to remind us that despite the mostly calm and polite ways of Deevy’s husbands, wives and young lovers, a darkness lingers. And though the plays span several different working classes, from wealthy vacationers to hardscrabble laborers, there are consistencies to be found. In this playwright’s realm, young women are prized, old women are sage, young men are weak and older men are misguided.
Deevy herself knew her share of dark times. Born in Waterford in 1894, she was the youngest of 13 children. At age 20, she went deaf, then moved to London to study lip-reading. Her practice included reading scripts then going to the theater to watch the words being spoken. She ultimately returned to Ireland, a prolific playwright gaining fame throughout the 1930’s. However, after a successful early collaboration with Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, there was a falling out, and the Abbey stopped producing her work. Fortunately, for Deevy’s legacy, the Mint Theater’s artistic director, Jonathan Bank, took a keen interest. Traveling to Deevy’s family home back in Waterford, he discovered two suitcases of her manuscripts stashed under a bed (thus this production’s title). The Teresa Deevy Project was born. Since 2010, the Mint has staged three of her full-length works, published many of her plays in a two-volume set, and now offers this quartet, directed by Bank, with a cast of seven taking on some 22 different roles.
In the evening’s opener, Strange Birth, the postman rings twice. Well, he knocks twice, first to deliver the day’s mail to the lonely inhabitants of a boarding house, then to announce his romantic intentions toward the housekeeper, Sara (Ellen Adair). Sara is strong-willed yet fears the power of love, which makes her scene of wooing with “Bill-the-post” (Aidan Redmond) all the more fun. Meanwhile, three other inhabitants walk the halls with problems of their own. Gina Costigan, as Mrs. Stims, shines the brightest. Given only eight lines, her harshness and self-loathing are fully realized. She laments, “As soon as I appear, nobody wants me.”
The second offering, In the Cellar of My Friend, is the weakest of the batch. It’s a strange tale about a father in love with his son’s girlfriend. Turns out, the son is really not that into her anyway; he has other plans. And the girl herself is clueless about both men’s intentions. The action consists mostly of finding ways to put off learning why Barney (A.J. Shively) has no interest in the perfectly delightful Belle, despite the charm and stunning blue-gray eyes of actor Sarah Nicole Deaver. Colin Ryan finds no way to make the father, Thomas, believable, but the bigger sins belong to Deevy here, and include a vital letter not being delivered because a dog chewed it up, the illogic that Belle would get things so wrong and take what she’s left with, and a most far-fetched excuse for Barney’s heartlessness.
Mr. Ryan redeems himself in Holiday House, a catty little affair that casts him as the debonair Derek. His wife, Jil (Ms. Costigan), senses they are on shaky ground and it only gets worse when Derek’s ex-wife Doris (Ms. Adair) turns up with her distracted husband Neil (Mr. Redmond), who also happens to be Derek’s brother. Alas, the set has no closets to hide in or doors to slam, to make this true farce, but Ms. Deaver shows up in a silly wig for a pure comic turn as Derek’s much put upon sister, Hetty. And Cynthia Mace plays Derek’s wily mother, pointing him to his true heart’s desire.
A dark and meaty tragedy, The King of Spain’s Daughter, closes out the night. Peter (Mr. Redmond) is a brutish and abusive laborer and Annie (Ms. Deaver) is his wild daughter, too busy making time with the local boys to bring her Pa his dinner on time. The two have it out, with young Jim (Mr. Shively), Peter’s co-worker who wants to wed Annie, caught in the middle. Mr. Redmond, a powerhouse throughout the night, brings a palpable sense of danger to this role and Ms. Deaver again transforms herself, this time into a rebellious creature who must choose between a husband she does not want and a life of drudgery as a factory worker. If she marries Jim will she ever grow to love him? Ms. Mace, now in the role of a lowly villager, offers cold comfort, “It might come to you later. Sometimes it do, and more times it don’t.”
The Suitcase Under the Bed – Four short plays by Teresa Deevy. Directed by Jonathan Bank.
WITH: Ellen Adair (Doris/Sara), Gina Costigan (Jil/Mrs. Stims), Sarah Nicole Deaver (Hettie/Belle/Anne), Cynthia Mace (Mater/Mrs. Marks/Mrs. Taylor/Aunt Patty), Aidan Redmond (Neil/Martin/Peter/Bill), Colin Ryan (Derek/Roddy/Tom) and A.J. Shively (Charlie/Barney/Jim/Mr. Bassett).
Sets by Vicki R. Davis, Costumes by Andrea Varga, Lights by Zach Blane, Sound by Jane Shaw, Props by Joshua Yocom; Production Stage Manager, Heather Arnson; Stage Manager, Jeff Meyers. The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, http://minttheater.org/production/the-suitcase-under-the-bed/, 212-239-6200. Through September 30. Running time: 2 hours, ten minutes.