Review: Priests, Paternity, and a Pub Preoccupy "Herself"


Written by Tim McGillicuddy

Directed by Hamilton Clancy

Presented by The Drilling Company at A.R.T./New York Theatres

502 West 53rd St., Manhattan, NYC

March 29-April 20, 2024

Kathleen Simmonds, Drew Valins. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation
Herself, making its world premiere as the 25th anniversary production from The Drilling Company, is bookended by song, in each case sung a capella by cast member Patrick Hart on a darkened stage, moments that might fairly be called haunting. Their plaintiveness appropriately characterizes a play in which the characters are haunted as much by recent tragedy as by decades of history that remains an unquiet presence, all of which is deeply rooted in place. From native New Yorker Tim McGillicuddy and directed by Drilling Company founder and artistic director Hamilton Clancy, Herself is part of the 2024 Origin 1st Irish Festival, running through April 28th at multiple venues around the city.
Hamilton Clancy, Kathleen Simmonds. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation
In McGillicuddy's play, the herself in question is Maureen (Kathleen Simmonds), a Galway native who has emigrated to New York and built a successful career for herself Stateside. But the funeral of her brother Jim, a friend of the disenfranchised and unhoused whose death from alcohol abuse one character describes as suicide, brings her back to Ireland. Her return also brings her back into the orbit of a contentious relationship with her father, Martin (Hamilton Clancy), that is bound up in local scandal and gossip that continues to dog the family decades after the inciting incident. Jim, an absent presence throughout, has left behind the pregnant–and, for added scandal, English–Jane (Natalie Smith) as well as a run-down pub in a struggling waterfront area. Jane reveals that Jim has willed said pub, staffed by congenial bartender Paddy (Drew Valins), to Maureen, whose initial resistance to the idea of becoming involved with saving the business gives way. This change draws her back into the local rumor mill, including regarding her relationship to young priest Father Michael (Skyler Gallun), and sets her on a collision course with the plans of her father, whom she at one point calls "the Demolition King," to redevelop the waterfront. 
L-R: Drew Valins, Una Clancy, Patrick Hart, David Marantz, Kathleen Simmonds. Photo by Lee Wexler/images for Innovation.
This particular conflict certainly evokes an Ireland still haunted by the "ghost estates" left in the wake of the Celtic Tiger's passing. Pub regular–and one-time employee of Martin–Mary's (a splendid Una Clancy) early talk of ghosts sets the stage for the boxes, antique items, and even a walled-off room discovered in the pub basement, and images of pastness proliferate. Even Jane's unborn child might be seen as making a remnant of the past present. The discoveries in the pub parallel the emergence of what really happened in Maureen's family's past, and the pub itself represents a material incarnation of family history; but, at the same time, it also points back to a much longer history and, in the more recent past and present, represents a community space that welcomes not only regulars but also, for instance, those in need of the soup kitchen that Jim had established there. The set design, by Rebecca Lord-Surrat, spatially reproduces the thematic opposition between that space, on one short end of the rectangular playing space, and the profit- rather than community-oriented values represented by Martin's office on the other. (To its credit, the play complicates the contrast in values between Maureen and Martin in their first scene together.) Woven into these themes are others about second chances and the embrace of self and life, as important for the self-questioning that Father Michael undergoes and a conflict between a young man named Aiden (Patrick Hart) and his fiancé Brenda (Mary Linehan) over sexuality and the Church–and, later, trust–as they are for Maureen and Martin. Amid strong performances all around, including Meg Hennessy as Martin's mild employee Anna and Dave Marantz as builder Matthew, both of whom are pushed to important turning points for their characters, Simmonds and Valins are outstanding, the former imbuing Maureen with a fiery, grief-stricken vitality that complements the latter's more even-keeled if intermittently exuberant decency as Paddy. Between the production's opening and closing strains of farewell, Herself serves trauma, tragedy, celebration, and solidarity one well poured pint at a time.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


Popular posts from this blog

Review: The Immersive "American Blues: 5 Short Plays by Tennessee Williams" Takes Audiences on a Marvelously Crafted Journey

Review: From Child Pose to Stand(ing) Up: "Yoga with Jillian" and "Penguin in Your Ear" at the Women in Theatre Festival

Review: Nancy Redman’s "A Séance with Mom" Conjures Mother-Daughter Hilarity and Love