The Mai – Reviews
Review by P. McGovern
Civic Theatre, Tallaght
Until Sept 29th
Marina Carr’s The Mai has lost none of its social resonance or theatrical impact in the almost 25 years since its first production. In fact, were it written today it might seem that many of its themes were drawn in because of their connection to contemporary or recent events. Divorce, emotional abuse, inter-racial marriage, even abortion are all stitched into the fabric of the play. However, far from seeming imposed, these subjects arise naturally from the lived experience of four generations of women. More accurately, perhaps, they arise from the stories of their lives as told by the women – not quite the same thing, as various characters edit or embroider their experiences of relationships with men. One character takes frequent flight into the realms of fantasy about her ancestry while another clings to an idealised version of the family life she struggles to create, only reluctantly conceding that in fact it is all “fucking Family Solidarity shite”.
Andrew Flynn’s luminous production is directed with unflinching clarity. Derbhle Crotty’s Mai swings between hope, despair and raw savage anger as she deals with the philandering and casual neglect of a callous husband. Caught up in his own need for excitement and sexual adventure, Aidan Redmond’s Robert is blinded to his responsibilities as husband and father. Crotty’s performance is up there with her best while Redmond impresses as her self-absorbed, detached, feckless other half, deluded by his aspiration to be a great composer. The final confrontation between the two, following one humiliation too many, is just one of the many scenes beautifully orchestrated by director and actors.
Stella McCusker’s Grandma Fraochlán is part Greek Chorus, making her acerbic observations on the actions and past history of others, and part comic, defusing the tension of the central narrative. As the Mai’s sister, Beck, Maeve Fitzgerald is convincingly offbeat, unconventional but warm-hearted. The part of the other sister, Connie, is somewhat underwritten, but Lesley Conroy does everything asked of her, resisting the temptation to do too much to bulk up the role. Empathy flows between the three sisters in scenes where pretence is discarded, honesty surfaces and shared memories bring a sense of solidarity and intimacy.
Another pair of sisters, aunts Julie (Marion O’Dwyer) and Agnes (Joan Sheehy) bring both humour and seriousness to the drama. O’Dwyer reflects the old judgmental Ireland, all rigid, self-righteous piety and belligerence, intolerant of dissent or independence. Sheehy’s Agnes is a perfect foil to Julie, warm-hearted and nuanced, trying to defuse her aggression and calm things down.
Rachel O’Byrne’s narrator, Millie, completes a great cast, one that together with director Flynn, combines to do justice to Carr’s play, a play that entertains as it chills and never ceases to hold our interest. It continues its run at The Civic theatre Tallaght until September 29th, touring to Mermaid Arts Centre (October 2nd) and Town Hall Theatre Galway (October 4th – 6th). If it comes to a venue near you, don’t miss it.
Cast and Creative Team
Directed by Andrew Flynn
Cast includes: Leslie Conroy, Derbhle Crotty, Maeve FitzGerald, Stella McCusker, Rachel O’Byrne, Marion O’Dwyer, Aidan Redmond and Joan Sheehy
Set and Lighting Design: Ciaran Bagnall
Costume Design: Niamh Lunny
Music and Sound Design: Carl Kennedy
Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine
Witch, crone, mother, virgin, wife, whore. Female archetypes that Marina Carr sets out to challenge and subvert in the powerful and prescient “The Mai.” First produced in 1994, “The Mai” was not only a play of its time, it was a play ahead of its time. And a play which, if some of its references seem a little dated today, is still deeply and powerfully resonant.
In Decadent’s current production, director Andrew Flynn makes some strong choices that position “The Mai” in some new and interesting ways. Following The Mai and her family, as well as her returned husband Robert, during some key days in 1979 and 1980 at her new home on Owl Lake, Carr’s taut script is stepped in family history, story telling, and the riches of landscape. A landscape Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting and set design sets about subverting. Indeed, Carr’s landscape in which energies and forces seethe beneath the surface becomes non-existent. Instead, energy, like these women, is trapped within a world where nature is twisted into wooden floorboards and towering beams, the world outside awash in cold light beyond the large glass window. Indeed, Bagnall’s evocative use of light, and Carl Kennedy’s brooding music design, hint at the freezing of these undercurrents underneath the unseen landscape these women have become alienated from. Throughout “The Mai” the pull between binary tensions looms large. Family and self, motherhood and independence, the pagan and the Christian, the trapped and the free. The empty chair and music stand become evocative of presences that are more felt in absence, be they departed husbands, old stories and memories, or your own neglected talents and lifeblood. Any of which can bring momentary joy or utter destruction.
If four generations of women, trapped in lives, roles, and stories passed down as an invisible legacy, find blood is thicker than water, it may not be quite thick enough. If most share a desire for romanticised, and often unworthy men who usually go away, some go so far as to resent being mothers and would consign their children to hell for just one more day with the man they love. Indeed, it’s an old story, one often passed from larger than life mothers down to their broken and neglected daughters. From Stella McCusker’s earthy, centenarian Grandma Fraochlán, to Marion O’Dwyer’s uptight, scene stealing Julie. From Derbhle Crotty’s superbly understated The Mai, to Rachel O’Byrne’s near invisible Millie, hovering like a ghost, eavesdropping on memories and thoughts, like a child overhearing conversations they were never intended for hear. Around which Meave Fitzgerald’s Beck, Joan Sheehy’s Agnes, and Lesley Conroy’s Connie both challenge and support the status quo. At the centre of which an impressive Aidan Redmond’s self serving, solitary, stone-in-their-shoe Robert, brings them closer together yet drives them further apart.
With the freezing of these women’s vital energies there’s a coldness and restraint at the heart of this production. One whose volcanic eruption between The Mai and Robert only ever releases dark plumes of smoke, never quite finding the lava. Under Flynn’s direction, Carr’s tale of mad proud women focuses on the manner of their entrapment rather than on that which is entrapped. If this lends itself to less power and visceral immediacy, it also offers a fresh way to look at Carr’s “The Mai.” One which foregrounds the shackles, societal, self imposed, and hereditary, which women are often enslaved by. And from which they crave release. Providing Stockholm Syndrome hasn’t taken too deep a hold.
“The Mai” by Marina Carr, produced by Decadent, runs at The Civic Tallaght as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 until September 29 before touring.