Thursday, December 16, 1999
The Indoor Staff Players'' current production, Pictures in the Hall, directed by Nick Hovick, is a reader''s theater piece based on the second volume of Irish playwright Sean O''Casey''s autobiography and adapted by Paul Shyre.
The script traces the trajectory of O''Casey''s, or Johnny''s, (as he was called before he Gaelicized his name) creative coming-of-age. It attempts to weave a vocal tapestry of Johnny''s discovery of the beauty of language and the beginnings of his literary life within the context of his family, city, country, and political history. And while the premise of this story is compelling, ultimately this production is uneven and diffuse.
As is appropriate to reader''s theater, it is primarily the variety of voices that surround Johnny--familial, political, soft, harsh, wise, foolish, and enticing--which ignite his soul and his imagination. Johnny''s adolescent journey of creative and sexual awakening parallels a macrocosmic coming-of-age taking place throughout Ireland, specifically in Dublin. The events portrayed in Pictures in the Hall take place during the 1916 Easter Uprising at the Dublin General Post Office, the tumultuous event that made Dublin the locus of the fight for Irish independence. The confusion apparent in many characters'' struggle to articulate what is essentially Irish--where what is English leaves off and what is Irish begins--mirrors Johnny''s struggle to define his own identity--what his own soul yearns to express.
The voices, and the characters that are evoked by them, are the warp and weft of this play. And as each actor portrays a number of different characters, the audience has only a simple shift in posture, an idiosyncratic tone or turn of phrase, by which to identify them. By and large these delineations were missing. Thus Johnny''s story, at times, became diffuse and confusing.
One exception was Peter Eberhardt''s performance--he has a flexible voice that ranges from deep and sonorous to nasal and metallic, and he was able to evoke a variety of characters with subtle changes in inflection and tone. Nick Hovick, too, as the narrator, had a warm and empathetic voice. Through judicious interpretation of the exposition, he was able to keep the threads of the play from becoming too entangled.
Matt Bower, as Johnny, tended to rush through his lines, but was more effective when playing the detached sullen angst of troubled adolescence. Carol Marquhart brought a lot of energy and passion to her roles, but had trouble maintaining an Irish accent and failed to fully delineate between characters. Christie DiPietro had an expressive face and ranged from the soft and yielding Jenny, to the more brittle Ellen quite effectively. I felt she was under-used.
The script did not always assist the actors. While the language is extraordinarily rich and evocative (somewhat like Dylan Thomas'' Under Milkwood), its poetic meanderings sometimes take us too far afield of Johnny''s story.
Also, the title Pictures in the Hall implies that pictures of some kind, whether real or imagined, will be a theme, or recurring metaphor, throughout the play. Yet, we don''t hear the reference until the end and must work backwards to put it into context.
This is one way in which a text meant to be read (as O''Casey''s autobiography presumably was) works differently from a piece meant to be performed. The theatrical experience is so immediate in comparison to the relative leisure one can take over a book where one can reread a paragraph or two to get the gist of it. As Irish poet Seamus Heaney writes of O''Casey''s work, "his theatrical experiments and assaults were born of a desperation to get at life." I wanted to see and hear a more cogent representation of that desperation and passion.