3 out of 4 stars
Like many of the stories for which Ireland is known, Deirdre of the Sorrows is a tale from the Ulster Cycle, dating back to around the first century AD. And like many tales which have survived for so long, Deirdre of the Sorrows is a classic tale of love and tragedy. This particular telling, written by Irish playwright John Millington Synge—one of the founders of Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre and an important figure in Ireland’s fight for independence—hasn’t graced Chicago for a century. His staging was completed a year after his death, in 1910, by his wife Molly Allgood and a friend and fellow founder of the Abbey Theatre, William Butler Yeats.
This staging, directed by Kay Martinovich, stars Natalie Joyce as Deirdre, Alex Pappas as Naisi, Tim Kidwell as Conchubor, and Morgan McCabe as Leabarcham (with Mark Pracht, Curtis Dunn, Mick LaRocca, Andrew Marikis, marssie Mencotti, and Brian Sprague as well). The names of the characters come from a time before the English language was imposed upon Ireland, and as such can be difficult for English speakers to comprehend. Conchubor, for instance, is pronounced sort of like, “Kruh- her,” while Leabharcham (“Lavarcham” in Synge’s telling) sounds like “Laower-chum.” The “bh” in Irish is typically pronounced how either a “v” or “w” would be in English, depending upon its context (in the case of Leabharcham, it’s usually pronounced as a “w”). This can create considerable confusion for people unaccustomed to Irish and makes translation a bit of a b*tch.
The names are not the only difficulty in translating this play for an American audience, though. A convincing Hiberno-English accent is notoriously hard to get right, and even when done well can sound very strange to American ears. Not only is the inflection far less flat than your Standard American accent, but there’s a rhythm to it which is difficult to grasp without hefty experience. English has only been prevalent on Ireland for a few hundred years; Irish has been spoken there for millennia. As a result, much of how English is spoken is affected by how Irish is spoken, and if you haven’t heard much Irish you may have a rough go of things, both in producing and comprehending it. I’ll be honest when I say I had some difficulty understanding a few of the actors at times. My grandparents are from Connacht and Sligo, agus tá cúpla focal Gaeilge agat, so I’d at least suppose I can tell a good brogue when I hear one. While the acting itself was phenomenal, the accents at some points felt overplayed, at other times felt spot-on, and yet at other times felt Scottish.
Mar sin féin, beyond that confusion the rest of the staging was absolutely grand. The set, designed by Yeaji Kim, harkened back to an ancient time, with simple iron stoves, wooden stools, and gorgeous tapestry; all of which would have been common in first-century Ireland. The music prefacing each act and the sparse sound effects by Curtis Powell did a great job setting the scene and displaying Deirdre’s mental disturbance after her loss. The costume designs of Rachel Sypniewski, especially, were fantastic. Celtic motifs and shawls go léir léir graced the actors as they played out one of Ireland’s most famous tragedies. All in all, if you’ve the hankering for a classic story, and don’t mind acclimating to hearing a brogueish English, Deirdre of the Sorrows is well worth your while.
Deirdre of the Sorrows plays at City Lit Theatre from now until October 15th, on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, and on Sundays at 3:00. Tickets are $32.00--$27 for seniors, and $12 for students and military. Tickets can be bought either at the door or online at citylit.org. Performances are at City Lie Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Chicago (Inside the Edgewater Presbyterian Church).
I've had the fortune of being born to a painter, and since childhood have been involved in the arts in some form or another. After attaining degrees in Music Performance and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University, and after being exposed to the wonderful theater scene there, I realized I'd benefit as an artist if I continued contributing to the community. I believe an important part to being an artist is having exposure to as many sorts of Art as possible. Theater is one of the most variegated arts, and I feel all the richer for playing the small role I have in the Chicago theater scene (hopefully, Chicago is all the richer for having me!)