Review by Kathleen Campion
It was a dark and stormy night downtown, and four actors were making some magic at Soho Rep’s Walkerspace just below Canal.
In Scene 1 – we meet the brothers Sloane. Billy comes in from the cattle barn and makes a mess with his shite-encrusted boots, then settles into the existing mess of beer cans and scraps of food he’d no doubt left the night before. He snaps on the antique television. His older brother Francis follows the same path into the room, after leaving his Wellies neatly on the porch; he plays Felix to Billy’s Oscar, tidying around him and setting some order to the proceedings.
Each of the Sloane boys has an active internal monologue driving him — neither is quite right. Billy (Tim Ruddy) is boorish and petulant, and Francis (John Keating) handles him with kid gloves. Francis is civilized and gentle, enamored of the earth and the natural beauty surrounding them on this farm they’ve inherited and endeavor to drag a living from. Francis, too, is quietly screaming that something’s not right with him. When Josie (Sarah Street) arrives to do a little light housekeeping, nothing you would expect happens.
Chika Shimizu’s set almost reeks of the shite the script continually references. On the rare occasions the characters step outside of the caravan/mobile home, the audience experiences the suggestion of fresh air. The details of the living space— the period television, the orange-crate end-table, and the requisite portrait of JFK — support the authenticity of these digs and place us in time: 2010 in rural Ireland.
The three main characters inhabit a private, tiny universe. Theirs is a delicate, fragile balance. Much of the finesse of Jaki McCarrick’s script is in the loaded, telling silences her characters share. I would argue the first act is indulgently long, but I wouldn’t trim the silences. In the second act, when John-Joe (Michael Mellamphy) shows up, that balance is completely upended. He is the bull in their china shop.
The stage at Walkerspace is the size of a soda cracker, and the audience is right on top of the actors. This makes the fact that fight director Ron Piretti credibly pulls off two violent encounters — astounding.
After the performance, walking up to the subway, my guest and I talked about the fact that, while there were suggestions of how each of the story lines resolved, there were no lead-pipe cinches — and wasn’t that engaging. I suspect McCormick’s plays will be taught, if they are not already, since there is a subtle layering that makes you want to read the script.
For an American audience, the authentic Irish accents, while beguiling, are occasionally remote, so, the audience does some work.
This is fresh and authentic theater. The direction is deft. The characters capture you quickly; you never doubt them. The script is a glimpse of a moment fraught with all the breakage engendered in the Troubles before, all the specific damage visited on these four people, and all the slim hopes of redemption.
The Naturalists – By Jaki McCarrick; directed by Colleen Clinton & Lily Dorment.
WITH: John Keating (Francis Sloane), Michael Mellamphy (John-Joe Doherty), Tim Ruddy (Billy Sloane), Sarah Street (Josie Larmer).
Designed by Chika Shimizu; lighting by Caitlin Smith Rapoport; sound byChristopher Ross-Ewert; fight director was Ron Piretti. Presented by the Pond Theatre Company at Soho Rep’s Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street in Soho. Through September 23rd. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission.