Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Suitcase Under the Bed

Playwright Teresa Deevy lived from 1894 to 1963. The youngest of 13 children, she lost her hearing in her late teens, roughly at the same time that her family's financial situation became much reduced. She used theatre as as a way to practice her lip-reading (she read the play first, when possible) and soon felt inspired to write plays herself. When she had trouble getting her work produced, she switched to writing radio plays. She went to mass every day, yet was critical of the restrictions placed on women by the Catholic church. The limited biographical information available does not mention any romance.

She must have been a fabulous lip-reader and an even better reader of people, as her plays are wise, subtle, and full of psychological insight.

Mace and Deaver in The King of Spain's Daughter
Photo: Richard Termine
If not for Jonathan Bank and the invaluable Mint, Deevy and her work might be unknown, which would be a big loss for audiences and theatre history. Bank has not only revived Deevy's work; he has also been instrumental in tracking down copies of lost plays. Bank's latest evening of Deevy's work, The Suitcase Under the Bed, features four one-acts that were found in the titular location.

The first, Strange Birth, is a brief slice of life that takes place in the hallway of a rooming house. As Sara, the maid, is cleaning the floor, each of the tenants comes down to see if they have received mail. In a remarkably short period of time, we learn about Mrs. Taylor's relief that her son is coming home, Mr. Bassett's heartbreak, and Mrs. Stims's bitterness, and while their appearances are brief, we feel we know them. Then Bill, the mailman, arrives and quietly changes Sara's life.

The next piece, In the Cellar of My Friend, is the odd story of a young woman who finds her dreams dashed in a way that relies too much on an awkward theatrical device. Nevertheless, the play does an excellent job of depicting her heartbreak and how she deals with.

Redmond and Adair in Strange Birth Photo: Richard Termine
In Holiday House, two brothers and their wives come home for a vacation made stressful by the fact that one of the wives was formerly engaged to the other brother. I wish that Deevy had turned this into the first scene of a full-length play. While it works well as is, and provides a remarkable amount of information, tension, and character development in its one act, I was completely involved and sad when it ended.

And last, The King of Spain's Daughter presents us with a young woman full of imagination and energy whose life offers her only limits and dead ends. Her father is abusive, and the man who wants to marry her is dull. The play occurs on a construction site with a "Road Closed" sign that might as well be labeling her future.

In his director's note in the program, Bank writes, "putting together an evening of one act plays is a tricky balancing act. How many actors will play how many parts? Will the casting serve all of the plays? Can the design serve all of the plays adequately? How long will scene changes take, how much crew will be needed? What order will be best? And, of course, do the plays tie together, do they relate to each other? Do they work together to tell a story, make a satisfying evening? And--most important, will the evening serve our author?"

The Suitcase Under the Bed goes a long way in answering Bank's questions. Out of 22 roles, there was really only one problem, which is that the siblings in Holiday House seem to span an unrealistic age range. But it's a small flaw. Overall, the cast is excellent, and I imagine they must have a blast playing all their roles, particularly Sarah Nicole Deaver, who gets to play three distinctly different and fascinating women and does so beautifully. Also outstanding is Cynthia Mace, who takes four relatively small parts and makes them distinct and textured and real. But, truly, the whole cast shines; the others are Ellen Adair, Gina Costigan, Aidan Redmond, Colin Ryan, and A.J. Shively.

Vicki R. Davis's set works well in all four plays, and only one scene change is longish. Andrea Varga's costumes and Zach Blane's lighting are also effective, and Jane Shaw's sound and original music opens up the plays by giving us a sense of the world outside. The wigs are the best I've seen at a show at The Mint; while they were obviously wigs, they served the characters appropriately and never pulled focus.

And Bank's direction pulled everything together expertly, giving us a wonderful sense of Deevy's great skill and compassion and a first-class evening in the theatre.

Wendy Caster
(press ticket; 5th row)

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