In Pigeon House
Energy never flags in this verbally gymnastic homage to traveling shows
|Seanachai Theatre presents|
|In Pigeon House|
Review by Joy Campbell
The playwright’s inspiration for In Pigeon House comes from “fit ups,” traveling shows that toured Ireland’s countryside in the first half of the twentieth century. So known because performers would “fit up” a bed sheet as curtain for the shows, they were lively, simple entertainment for rural folk who didn’t get much in the way of it.
In Pigeon House pays homage to that genre as well as to its relatives vaudeville, music hall, and cinema. Its four players — Basher, Masher, Rasher, and Dolly -– charge from scene to scene, seamlessly transitioning from the exaggerated, witty repartee of vaudeville players, to overdramatic silent film, to gorgeously delivered monologues. Aspiration, love, heartbreak, and bitter disappointment are played as broadly one moment as they are with deep sensitivity the next, with equal success.
The cast is a marvel of physicality, vocal skill, and performance, delivering each scene with a sensibility for its genre. As Dolly, Katherine Schwartz gives a very funny exaggerated performance as a dairy wife arguing with her husband; all that’s missing is a hand to her forehead; later, she gives a wrenching monologue on the devastation wrought by foot-in-mouth to her family’s generations-old farm. When Basher (John Mossman) talks about the days when he and his fellow clowns worked with Chaplin, the days when “there were hundreds of clowns across Europe,” his intensity and command so spellbound the audience that it was absolutely still. (Did I mention that he delivers this monologue while sitting in a graffiti-scrawled public toilet stall? That, my friends, is impressive acting.)
Ira Amyx’s Rasher goes from indolent drugger to a naïve “nearly man” touring with the performers and finding love for the first time. His simplicity stays honest and endearing, and when he switches to more worldly characters he is just as convincing.
Barbara Figgins (Masher) is delightful as she bounces back and forth from living in the past as a dowdy has-been to playing the sexpot siren of the touring company.
An uncredited star of the show is Honor Molloy’s script, a melodious work of gorgeous, clever language. Thanks to dialect coach Susan Gosdick, the cast members sound completely authentic, and the Irish accents faithfully bring out the beauty of Molloy’s dialogue. Listening to the cast volley words back and forth, playing with the sounds and bringing out the cadence, is a real pleasure.
In Patrick McGee’s ingenious, minimalist set, pieces come out of walls to form boxes that can be configured and re-configured, unfolded, and opened, transforming from living room to dressing room to dairy shed to nightclub bathroom. The cast’s impressive rapid maneuvering of the scenery (which also includes three curtains at the front of the stage) extends the carnival quality of the show. An inset platform becomes a TV set where movies are projected and the actors perform shows in real-time (the device of using a “remote control” to fast-forward, pause, and rewind the live actors is especially effective; improv students might recognize the exercise, and can appreciate how much concentration it takes.)
The only real problem I have with the show is that while each scene is sufficient and entertaining in itself, it’s difficult determining any narrative line, or whether there even is one. There were times when I felt that I was supposed to see a connection among scenes and characters, that I was supposed to understand more about what was going on than I did. I’m not particularly obtuse, and I hate being spoon-fed, but I found it confusing and frustrating. And at about two hours with intermission, the show feels like it could use a trim.
Still, this world premier is successful despite these drawbacks. If you love great language and stellar performances, and want to see something less traditional, In Pigeon House will impress.
In Pigeon House continues through November 18th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $26-$30, and are available by phone (866-811-4111) or online through OvationTix.com. More information at Seanachai.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Eileen Molony
behind the scenes
Brian Shaw (director); Sarah Wellington, Michael Grant (artistic directors); Dane Bolinger (executive director); Erin Diener (production stage manager); Anna Lafontant (stage manager); Paul Loesel (original music composition); Patrick McGee (scenic and props design); Ashley Irons (props master); Garvin Jellison (lighting design); Andrew Blenderman (pianist and musical consultant); Ian Garrett (sound design, engineering); Beth Laske-Miller (costumes); Susan Gosdick (dialect design); Andra Vellis-Simon (voice coach); Mark Comiskey (video design); Jeri Frederickson (dramaturg); Ian Miller (graphics), Eileen Molony (photos)