Review by David Walters
They are not gone. The dead disappear within us.
Scourge was one of the pet names given to Michelle Dooley Mahon for being overly capricious when she was young, it also became the name (Scouraged) of her book which this play is pulled from about her late mother Siobhán, and mom’s descent into the black cloud that is Alzheimers and how it inevitably became intertwined with Michelle’s personal journey caretaking her mother through the disease and her passing, and now it is the title (The Scourge) of what her one-woman show is called that parallels the book and regales her years of visits to the nursing home and how those experiences lent themselves to the person she is today.
“I can’t even remember when I was first christened with all the extra names, thatdivilskin, the changeling, Little Mrs. Up & Down, that bloody rip, that little scourge, and when we thought it was funny, that you brought the wrong baby home from the hospital and the REAL me was sitting at a bonfire in a tinkers camp crying to be found.”
Part of the 16th season of Origin’s 1st Irish New York’s festival of Irish Theatre, The Scourge is a rich stew of many parts and each morsel is a distinct flavor bursting with the kind of self-truth and self-reflection that is universal to life. Michelle’s telling of her tale makes a banquet of story and a buffet of observation so that you’ll leave the theater satiated and carrying a huge bag of leftovers that will feed you in some form the rest of your life.
Michelle describes herself as a free-cycling bi-polar woman which is both a blessing and a gift; firstborn, the favorite and named after a Beatles’ song, not the saint; a person who shouldn’t be allowed to live alone; reacting into life straight from her limbic pathways; a person who is emotionally incontinent; someone who from a young age has had a fear of abandonment and manifested it constantly throughout her life; and at times possessing of a face that would turn a funeral procession down a side street.
This play is filled with many of the same analogies that other memoir plays and books about children dealing with their parent’s slow physical and mental demise, the role reversals, the anguish of a live body and seemingly no one home, the lament of them being there both as a child and an adult, the relief and simultaneous overwhelming grief when they finally let go, and the post journey of the newly orphaned who have lost both parent and child in the same day.
Just as every person is unique though, every story such as this with a similar plot is itself unique because we as people are individuals in our experiences and bring our own selves to every one of our stories. That’s why (though there are some glitches) I’m recommending this production as worthy of your time.
The brutally honest self-observation, the wit, lilt, and poetry of her language is a draw that brings the audience into the over-stuffed wardrobe of Michelle and her experiences and lets the love that gets buried under the mess of life get exposed.
The feral cat keening wind screamed in and blew the curtains around and I looked into the mottled sky and thought my mother has gone out there, out amongst those peek-a-boo clouds, out to the white light of the moon.
When it stops being, “This time last year,” and gradually becomes, “Remember when,” they’re not gone, they have only begun to disappear within us. The dead disappear within us. And thus live forever.
Written by Michelle Dooley Mahon
Directed by Ben Barnes
Starring Michelle Dooley Mahon