THE HISTORIC 40TH STREET THEATRE, RESCUED FROM THE WRECKING BALL
This year Brigit Saint Brigit is thrilled to be staging its Irish Fest in the amazingly-beautiful and delicately-restored 40th Street Theatre--one of the city's historic treasures. Originally opened in 1916, this architectural gem, like so many others, fell into disrepair and was destined for the wrecking ball when owners John and Mary Hargiss first saw it. Coming to its rescue, they have lovingly revitalized it through years of hands-on effort and artistry--one authentic tile, wood panel, and wall detail at a time. BSB is honored to be part of its reopening, its 100th year birthday premiere. A fitting production site to celebrate this year's anniversary of 100 years of Irish independence with the 1916 Rising. Coincidence?
THE PLAY "Love! In the name of God, what do the likes of us know about love? Think of the 200 sovereigns dancing in the heel of your fist.
. . . How many times would you have to bend your back to make it?"
What: Annual Irish Festival, including SIVE by John B. Keane, and companion events of Irish poetry, story, music, and history
Where: Omaha's historic 40th Street Theatre, 4008 Hamilton
Dates and Times: Opens Friday, Feb. 19th, and runs Feb. 20, 21; 25, 26, 27, 28; Mar. 3, 4, 5, 6. Sundays at 2:00; all other performances at 7:30
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Brigit Saint Brigit is proud to present John B. Keane's Sive with a masterful cast, including Kelsi Weston as Sive, Delaney Driscoll as Mena, MaryBeth Adams as Nanna, Eric Griffith as Mike, Wes Clowers as Thomasheen, Scott Working and Jackson Cottrell as Tinkers Pats and Carthalawn Bocock, Qadir Khan as Sive's young suitor Liam Scuab, and Gordon Spencer as the old suitor, Sean Dota.
Directed by Cathy Kurz, stage managed by Sabrina Harris.
The lynchpin of this season's festival will be the full-length play Sive, a searing, suspenseful drama and a haunting combination of folk tale and family intrigue. One of Ireland's best-loved works, it places Celtic lyricism side-by-side with the grittiness of life in a poor, rural Ireland, exposing the lust, greed, and longing it breeds.
"In John B. Keane’s first and most famous play, Sive . . . the dark-spirited matchmaker who contrives to sell a young schoolgirl to an old farmer is not criticized. He is cursed. A Traveller, Pats Bocock, puts a hex on the grasping, cynical Thomasheen Seán Rua: 'You are the bladder of a pig, the snout of a sow; you are the leavings of a hound, the sting of a wasp. You will die roaring'."*
This isn't subtle psychological drama. "It is the voice of a pre-Christian world where words are magical weapons," and the curses--and blessings--of travelling tinkers and elder crones echo eerily. The surprising setting is 1950s rural Ireland.
The earthly dimension of this mythic tale focuses on the Glavin family. The schoolgirl is Sive, one of four inhabitants of Mike Glavin's ramshackle farm. Her own mother died when she was born, and her father disappeared (under disputed circumstances), so she's been reared by her Uncle Mike; his wife, Mena; and Mike's mother, Nanna. Mike is determined to do his duty by Sive and his mother, but Mena resents the girl and has come to loathe her mother-in-law. Childless herself and embittered by a disappointing marriage and a lifetime of poverty and backbreaking work, she begins to imagine a life with both women out of the way. For her part, Nanna feels equally trapped in the claustrophobic house, has always scorned and suspected Mena, and is a formidable protectress of the girl. The matron and the crone match each other in ferocity, while the man of the house "is tormented and torn by their mutual vitriol." ** Sive dreams of a day when she can move on to a life less constricting.
So the fuse has already been ignited when the matchmaker, the rusty-suited parasite Rua, gets Mena alone to deliver his proposition: an elderly, wealthy farmer wants to marry the 17-year-old Sive and will pay good money to have her. He will even take Nanna into the bargain. Realizing that getting Mike to agree--as he must--will be an enormous obstacle, Mena is still compelled to contrive in the plan. The slow burn goes faster, and the action flames toward its inevitable explosion.
The vivid brazenness of the characters together with the suspense-driven plot, complete with its secrets and lies, draws audiences to the play on a visceral level. But the triumph of Keane's masterwork is that its viscera is matched by the ever-present feeling that Nature or the Fates, are also watching events unfold in the timeless cycle of human behavior and consequences that is a fait accompli.
The pair of tinkers, with their bodhran and their spontaneous song, are not "beggars" as Mena accuses, but as Nanna warns, they are "decent people, travelling people, people of the road" and "there's no luck in refusing" them. She, too, seems to be both of this world and another, the mythical crone who sees and knows. When she whispers the curse, "That the heart might wither up in your breast," it brings an otherworldly chill. So the conflict is not only within the family, but occurs in a larger context--between the petty, everyday, selfishness and the grander design, Nature.
" An enthralling piece of theatre, with a rhythmic musicality to the viscously vicious verbal exchanges, Sive is a theatrical and literary gift. With every acerbic verbal joust, the tension heightens and Keane's language is both a savage and humourous joy . . . bitingly sharp and whimsically lyrical. " (culturenorthernireland.org). **
"The most exciting play I had seen in a long time. The characters, the language and the absolute honesty of it, gave a true picture of Ireland, without insulting or ‘plamasing’ it” (Actress Siobhan McKenna, NUIarchives.com).
"Into this enclosed arid wilderness [of 1950s Irish theatre], Sive roared like a strange savage incantation, a raw wind from the broader, wilder spaces of the land, with its terrible immemorial message of love sold for silver pence, the casual betrayal of principle to the blind dictates of custom” (O'Toole, Irish Times). *