Friday, January 17, 2014

Bewley's Cafe Theatre, 'Happiness': Studies of Grief in Days of Milk and Honey

Irish writer Mary Lavin (1912-1996), compared to Virginia Woolf and Anton Chekov over her literary life, is adapted for the stage by Deirdre Kinahan.

Bewley's Cafe Theatre
Jan 15-Feb 8

My review of Happiness by Mary Lavin, adapted by Deirdre Kinahan, coming up just as soon as I find an in-between sugar ...

Last year Meath County Council commissioned the theatre adaptation of two short stories by writer Mary Lavin - who resided in the area before her death. The task of applying the stories to the stage was given to another Meath writer: ascending playwright Deirdre Kinahan.

The task for Kinahan and director Padraic McIntyre is to draw out the writer's many interior passages for the stage. In the titular Happiness, where a daughter observes her mother's journey into widowhood, a clever turn from Clare Barrett isolates the story's different tones: impersonating several characters, rubbing light humour from the text where appropriate, yet also still and grounded for darker hues. 

"But are you happy?", the mother would routinely ask, an inquest born since deciding to bury her grief under daffodils and a honeyed appreciation for the everyday. A humdrum priest and a scolding nun suggest a suspicion of religion and its methods for coping with trauma. What lingers is the journey from sorrow to happiness, individual rather than institutional, and seen beautifully through to the end. 

Similarly themed is In the Middle of the Field, which charts the meeting between a recently widowed woman and a farmer. This episode allows for more dialogue, as Barrett bounces off the equally charming Steve Blount, whose misguided man calls to the woman's house at night, with an unexpected proposal made in the half light. The duet sweetly charts the confusion of how love and loss can be mistaken for one another, and the self-doubt cast upon those who grieve. 

Both of Lavin's stories are hardly miles away from Kinahan's own works, whose These Halcyon Days painted a similar portrait of resilience with microscopic strokes and mindful ink. With several projects in the pipeline - a full-scale play called God's Hotel about the journey of an Irish woman and her family after she's diagnosed with terminal cancer, to debut at Dublin Theatre Festival; a play called Spinning in development with Fishamble; and a feature in development with the Irish Film Board - this double-bill is a rare chance to catch smaller gems from the playwright.

What did everybody else think? 

1 comment:

  1. I loved this adaptation of Happiness. However my interpretation is entirely different. Instead of resilience I see unprocessed grief, pride and confusion portrayed with a sympathetic eye. I felt for this lovely widow's children and their fear for their mother who cried nightly behind closed doors. I felt for them when she decided she would no longer be sad. She brightly and aggressively proclaimed her own happiness. She questioned her children constantly about their own desperately needing them to subscribe to her religion of happiness. She scoured them for signs of her own failure, their sadness or discontent. This would be catastrophic for her so she insulated herself with the idea that it was effort that produced happiness. If her children weren't happy it was due to their own lack of effort. Happiness for her seemed to come at the end, when she no longer needed to make the effort to be happy.