REFLECTIONS by SUSAN JOHNSTON & BERNARD MCMULLEN
directed by JO CATTELL
Presented Sept 2011 @ 1st Irish Festival (New York City)
REVIEW (Irish Examiner):
Reflections is the name given to two paired one-acts, joined together by the new company the British National Theatre of America.
Like A Night with George, they are one-woman plays. Paula Nance performs both roles. In the first, “Twinkletoes,” by Susan Johnston, Karen comes from the wedding of her daughter and talks to the audience about her marriage to her Declan, who has been in prison since their daughter was eight. In the second, “Forgotten Milk,” by Bernard McMullen, Nance plays the daughter, Noreen, twenty years later.
The two plays take place before and after the Good Friday Agreement.Singer Andy Mac is onstage during both, playing at times a refrigerator (he holds a flashlight when Karen mimes opening it), or singing under some scenes to suggest love or disappointment. He also sings between the two plays. Jo Cattell directs, using this original idea brilliantly. Mac is the very present absence of the missing man. His subtle responses add atmosphere without interrupting the story, and make the whole thing theatrical and fresh.
It’s just the kind of creative theatricality you’d hope to see from a new play company, and it’s made me eager to see more of their work. Though there is humor in both of these plays, it’s of a very different kind than the set-up and one-liner style of A Night with George. Karen is speaking in a general way about the life leading up to her daughter’s wedding.The humor is just the general, rueful kind one might have about life. When she describes, for example, her honeymoon in Galway with her husband, she smiles and makes us smile imitating his voice asking if she’d ever seen a magic carpet: “Come here to me and I’ll show you how magic a carpet can be. He was so sweet.” Karen has had to live the sexless life of a widow or a nun, though her husband’s alive, for nine years, and at times she thinks about a man named Danny. But she isn’t a bad woman… and she still loves her husband. It’s touching and lyrical. Nance’s face goes from wistful to angry but somehow remains soft throughout.
The paired play “Forgotten Milk” is somewhat less cohesive. Unlike “Twinkletoes,” which has a wedding as a central event, it’s hard to discern the inciting event in “Forgotten Milk.” It’s an engaging monologue anyway, because Noreen is a strong, enigmatic and often funny creation. She’s become a singer, and the husband she had to marry, whose name, ironically, is the same as her Daddy’s, Declan, is in her shadow now (and we learn that really, she married him to have a different life). She prefers singing Eagles and Garth Brooks to rebel songs in the pubs that book her because of her father’s heroic status. We hear about Noreen’s childhood, her days as an exchange student in America, and finally about how she fell in love with her baby son. She’s lived her whole life in the shadow of the Troubles, and wants it to have no part of her – yet she named her baby son after her own father. The title refers to the way things change, gradually, “like a pint of milk forgotten at the edge of the stage.” That’s a fascinating observation but it’s not really dramatized, just discussed. At times it felt a little flat, and I wanted to see her in action.
Nevertheless, the pairing of the two plays, with Andy Mac’s unusual framing songs, and Nance’s vibrant performances, make the evening powerfully provocative. (GWEN OREL)