Aidan Redmond and Stephanie Roth Haberle in “Woman and Scarecrow” at the Irish Repertory Theatre. PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG
By Orla O’Sullivan
The dying woman in “Woman and Scarecrow” is not thinking about karma, but the “Kama Sutra” and how she wished she had studied all of it.
She’s thinking of lovers past, delicious meals eaten and new shoes never worn.
She was thinking of duty as Marina Carr’s play began, specifically all that needed to be done for her children Drifting back to the past, she cites the one who needs prodding if she is ever to study for her Leaving Cert., the other who never remembers to bring his lunchbox back from school. “I’m blue in the face telling him!”
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But as death draws nearer whatever people pleasing may have governed her life falls away and rage is released.
She’s not sure where to direct it: at the needy, philandering husband, who first left her after the second of their nine children was born; at the harsh aunt who took her in as a child when her mother died young; or at herself.
She almost turns on the adored children themselves, bitterly telling her husband that their main function for their grown offspring now is as the object of complaint to lovers.
In the final analysis, she has to admit to herself, that she also used her children as an excuse not to be more herself.
Or, rather, she admits it to Scarecrow, her alter ego and one of the four characters on stage. The children, though cited often, never appear. They are supposed to be elsewhere in the house, but never enter the deathbed room in this 2006 play set in the Irish Midlands.
On stage, there is Woman (Stephanie Roth Haberle), Scarecrow (Pamela J. Gray), Him, the husband (Aidan Redmond), and Aunty Ah, the guardian (Dale Soules, who some will know as Freida on the TV show “Orange is The New Black.” So grounded in an abstract piece, she is a pleasure to watch here).
The lack of character names typically signals a play that is not traditional, one that is more about ideas than telling a story: what happens to the characters and how does it change them? Frankly, I find that format more engaging, yes, entertaining — even if what happens to the central character here is as big as it gets. Death.
Scarecrow, as the name implies, is also keeping a threat away, in this case Death: a monster in the wardrobe, whose form is only hinted at when it tries to burst out. Puppeteer and former Muppet-eer Bob Flanagan, whose previous work at the Irish Rep includes Beckett through puppetry, created the formidable creature revealed at the end.
There’s also a revelation about Scarecrow that makes her role arguably more ambiguous. In ways, she’s almost like a guardian angel, having tried to warn Woman off a bad marriage, “always loved” her and being an entity that came before and will endure after Woman.
Scarecrow is also like the Freudian adult self “always rational” as the Woman-child complains, yet, in others she’s disgusted by how Woman sublimated herself. Woman stopped playing piano, for example, because it bothered her husband that she played better.
Generally, what was she doing that she failed to live up to the potential, Woman asks Scarecrow? “You were hoovering [vacuuming],” says the characteristically cynical Scarecrow.
Woman, played with great passion by Roth Haberle, admits she is sentimental, like her musical hero, Demis Roussos, begging Scarecrow to keep playing his 1970s’ romantic hit, “Forever and Ever.”
Impressed at having once heard that Roussos ate nine lobsters in a sitting, she calls him “a man with lobster in his voice!”
There are many such poetic images in the writing. Woman specifies that she is to be laid out in the new shoes she planned to wear at Christmas and marvels at word that her Visa bill has come. “To think that I am just one Visa bill away…” from being someone who shopped, she muses.
And there’s humor, such as in her writerly observation that there would be “appalling symmetry” to her dying in winter, the season in which she was born.
First, there will be a no-holds barred goodbye to Him and Aunty Ah.
“Woman and Scarecrow” by Marina Carr, opened this week, downstairs’ at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly, it runs until June 24. Tickets from www.irishrep.org.