By William Wolf


As it happened, I went to see “Three Small Irish Masterpieces” on St. Patrick’s Day, very appropriate as it turned out. And these really are little Irish masterpieces, enacted by an excellent cast and crisply directed by Charlotte Moore.

After a delightful fiddle and songs overture, the first play to unfold is “The Pot of Broth” written in 1903 by William Butler Yeats in collaboration with Lady Gregory. It involves a very funny con by a tramp, played niftily by David O’Hara, who invades a household to find something to eat. Claire O’Malley and Colin Lane play Sibby and John Coneelly, the couple visited by the tramp, who is told there is no food for him. But the tramp claims he has a magic stone that when put in water will make broth. Sibby is impressed and blindsided as the tramp proceeds to subtly steal ingredients from the table to put in the water.

The whole situation is very amusing and one wonders how stupid a person can be to be hoodwinked by such a con man. But then, thinking of the many who voted for Donald Trump with his assorted con promises, I answered myself in the positive. But there’s a difference-- the con man in the play proves to be charming.

The second play, “The Rising of the Moon” (1907) by Lady Gregory, deals with questions of compassion and solidarity. Here Lane is a sergeant on duty and on the lookout for an escaped political prisoner with a 100 pounds reward for his capture. The sum is a great temptation. A ragged man (Adam Petherbridge) turns up and in the course of conversation it is revealed that he is the man being sought.

What will the sergeant do? It turns out that his own youthful political passion makes the sergeant reluctant to capture the man despite the lure of such a large reward. The way in which this little drama works out sheds light on issues of human relationships and moral principles. It is a very compelling piece.

The final play (there is no intermission), “Riders to the Sea” (1904) by John Millington Synge, is a wrenching drama rooted to the age-old dangers awaiting men going out to sea. Terry Donnelly, a fine actress often in Irish Repertory Theatre productions, plays Maurya, a mother who desperately wants to keep her son Bartley (Petherbridge) from venturing to sea in wicked weather. But he is determined not to be held back.

We, of course, know what his fate will be, and when his body is brought back, Maurya’s reaction captures the aura of bereft mothers through the ages. One is emotionally pierced by her outstanding performance.

The plays are staged in the Irish Rep’s intimate downstairs Studio, and Moore directs with the utmost simplicity that brings out the essence of the writing without unnecessary flourishes. The result is an experience well worth the visit. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed March 18, 2018.


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