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Powerful work from a forgotten playwright

August 31, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Aidan Redmond and Rosie Benton in a scene from Temporal Powers, written by Teresa Deevy.

“Temporal Powers” By Teresa Deevy • Directed Jonathan Bank • Mint Theater Company • Thru Otober 2, 2011.

Most dictionaries define “temporal” as having to do with earthly life,  or being concerned wth secular matters. Both descriptions fit Teresa Deevy’s prize-winning 1932 play, Temporal Powers, like a glove. What these thumbnail definitions neither approach nor explain are the reasons why the play’s author, born in 1894 in County Waterford, and with her work, remain almost completely unknown in her native Ireland.

Jonathan Bank, Artistic Director of the Mint Theater Company, has made a personal project of directing fresh, new light on Deevy and the work she left behind when she died in 1963 after having returned to Waterford and to Landscape, the family home in which she had been born almost 69 years earlier.

If the word “temporal” suggests ordinary human activity, not perhaps in the most admirable way, it’s easy to see what was in Deevy’s mind when she wrote this play. It was her third work staged by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, where she was considered one of her country’s most promising playwrights.

The Mint Theater’s attachment to Deevy began with an earlier play, “Wife to James Whelan,” which Bank discovered and produced about a year ago. Two members of the earlier cast, Aidan Redmond and Rosie Benton, who gave standout performances in “James Whelan,” have returned to contibute  even better work in “Temporal Powers.”

This time they are Michael and Min Donovan, a restless married couple in their 30s who, having lost a child, find themselves evicted and forced to take refuge in an abandoned and partially ruined dwelling.  Michael is, according to Deevy, a gaunt man, aged and toil worn beyond his years. She describes Min as being “full of despair, but never merely depressed.”

Investigating their damaged domicile in advance of building a fire in the hearth before making beds of blankets and rags, Michael finds a large amount of cash wrapped and hidden away in a cracked and broken wall.

Their reactions to the discovery vary wildy, with Min considering it a windfall for their use, and Michael thinking of it as obviously stolen money he ought rightly to take into the village for a consultation with the local priest, Father O’Brien.

Barely hidden in Michael’s mind is a dream of escaping to America and a new life, preferably without Min. Sooner or later, he eventually realizes that the money, stolen or not, could hold the key to an improved future.

Deevy deals with the people around the Donovans, including Michael’s sister, Maggie, and her husband, Ned Cooney, who has done time in prison. The Cooneys are well played by Bairbre Dowling and Con Horgan. There are, as well, Moses Barron, well played by Eli James, his nagging mother, Daisy, nicely handled by the unfailing Fiana Toibin, and his would-be girlfriend, Lizzie Brennan, appealingly done by Wrenn Schmidt. In addition, Paul Carlin is briefly on deck as Jim Slattery, a local figure, as is Robertson Carricart as the aforementioned Father O’Brien.

The Mint’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Bank, isn’t finished with Teresa Deevy. Next season, there wil be a production of another of her plays, “Katie Roche,” thought in some quarters to be her finest work. Along the way, the Mint is publishing two volumes of her plays, heretofore unavailable in the United States. The first volume will contain “Temporal Powers,” “Wife to James Whelan” and “Katie Roche.”

The second volume will be devoted to brief works and sketches by Teresa Deevy.

Meanwhile, “Temporal Powers” carries on at the Mint through October 2 as one of the most compelling, challenging plays currently on a New York stage.

 

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