By Marina Carr
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“[One] not busy being born is busy dying.” – Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
It is one thing to have an imaginary friend, created to be summoned at will for conversation, company, and surcease from sorrow. It is quite another thing to have an alter ego, perhaps once created, but able to appear at its will and on its terms. In “Woman and Scarecrow” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage, Woman’s (Stephanie Roth Haberle) alter ego Scarecrow (Pamela J. Gray) – who has appeared sporadically throughout Woman’s life – “takes up residence” in Woman’s bedroom as she reflects on life and as she faces the fast-approaching death that seems to loom in the wardrobe at the foot of her bed.
Marina Carr’s new play explores the tenuous boundaries between life and death: the extraordinary work redefines those boundaries and exposes their weaknesses. These weaknesses have been apparent to playwrights, philosophers, and theologians as well. For example, there is the biblical admonition, “In the midst of life, we are in death.” Ms. Carr even calls into question the nature of the death for the apostles in her exposition of Caravaggio’s 17th century “Death of the Virgin.”
Stephanie Roth Haberle skillfully portrays Woman who is caught somewhere in a zone between the twilight of living and dying and not convinced which has been or will be the more desirable of the two. Ms. Haberle’s performance captures the angst of someone who has lived with an abusive husband for far too many years but is not sure why she never left him and chose the more passive-aggressive path of having affairs. Pamela J. Gray embodies alter ego Scarecrow’s sometimes pandering, often judgmental memories that sometimes contradict Woman’s recollections of similar life events – Ms. Gray’s performance is believable and resonates with authenticity.
Aidan Redmond plays Him, Woman’s unfaithful and abusive husband. Mr. Redmond portrays a man completely unaware of his abusive and dismissive behavior and accustomed to being able to seduce Woman to honor her responsibilities and his wife and the mother of his children. Woman’s Aunty Ah is portrayed by Dale Soules as the cornerstone of Irish Catholic propriety and spirituality. With these characters, the playwright raises rich and enduring questions left for the audience to grapple with.
Are humans ever fully living or perpetually on the brink of dying? What makes life worth living? What is the essential difference between life and death and what is the importance of what comes between the two perhaps uncontrollable eventualities? Is that which comes between ultimately nothing more than disappointment and regret? Is the Woman’s dilemma specific to women only: How might this play read if the roles of woman and Him were reversed?
Charlie Corcoran’s compact set heightens the intimacy between Woman and Scarecrow. Michael Gottlieb’s rich, dark lighting, Whitney Locher’s costumes, and Ryan Rumery’s sonorous sound and original music all deepen the audience’s ability to settle into Woman’s depressive – yet redemptive – journey from light into the shadows of existence and eternity.
Ciarán O’Reilly directs with his keen eye for subtlety and with his steady hand of encouragement. He teases from the exceptional cast the nuances of each character, especially important in establishing the differences and striking similarities of Woman and her Scarecrow and their unique motivations. How much does Scarecrow want to support Woman in her desire to achieve some surcease from suffering (physical and emotional) or is Scarecrow content in encouraging Woman to rehearse the most difficult times in her life?
Marina Carr’s “Woman and Scarecrow” is not merely a narrative piece; rather, it is a cautionary tale reminding us of Dylan’s proposition that unless one is about being born (and reborn?), one is surely “busy dying.”