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Brian Friel’s “The Home Place” was supposed to have been given its U.S. premiere by the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2007. Instead, casting problems caused it to be performed by Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, after which it soon dropped from sight. Now “The Home Place” has made it to New York at last, and the Irish Repertory Theatre, which has had a long and fruitful association with Mr. Friel and his work, is doing glorious honor to his final play. Directed by Charlotte Moore, whose Irish Rep productions of “Dancing at Lughnasa” and “Molly Sweeney” burn brightly in memory, this is a staging of hushed grace and delicacy, one that I wish Mr. Friel had lived to see.
“The Home Place” is a history play of sorts, though its drama is wholly personal. Set in 1878 in Ballybeg, the not-quite-imaginary Irish village where most of Mr. Friel’s plays take place, it unfolds in the home of Christopher Gore (John Windsor-Cunningham), a gentle-souled Anglo-Irish landlord who has fallen in love both with Ballybeg and with the much younger Margaret (Rachel Pickup), who keeps his house and loves his son (Ed Malone). Both of Christopher’s loves are hopeless, but the first is more tragic, since he can never be a part of the land to which he is so devoted. He is Irish by sympathy and English by blood, and for such cloven creatures there is no true acceptance, least of all at a moment when the resentment of his tenants is coming to a rolling boil….
It hardly seems right to say that Ms. Moore has “directed” this production, for her staging is so unassumingly natural that it feels as though the play is not being acted but is merely happening. Not only is the cast, Ms. Pickup and Mr. Windsor-Cunningham in particular, ideally chosen, but James Noone’s deep-green set is a miracle of evocative realism….
J.B. Priestley’s politically conscious, immaculately well-made plays are having a modest vogue on both sides of the Atlantic, enough so that the Roundabout Theatre Company has revived “Time and the Conways” on Broadway. Largely forgotten save by theater historians, this once-popular 1937 drama tells the tale of a feckless upper-middle-class family whose members are variously incapable of dealing with the difficulties of life in England between the wars.
I hesitate to accuse the Roundabout of cynicism, but the fact that Elizabeth McGovern is the star of this production makes me wonder whether the company regards “Time and the Conways” as anything more than a succulent piece of ever-so-British country-house subscriber bait à la “Downton Abbey.” In truth, it’s a fine play, one whose Ayckbourn-like time-travel premise (the three acts are set in the same room of the same house in 1919, 1937 and, once again, 1919) is no longer innovative but remains dramatically potent. It would have profited from a small-scale off-Broadway production by a troupe like the Mint Theater Company, which knows how to bring this kind of still-viable period piece to blazing life. The Roundabout’s revival, by contrast, rattles ineffectually around the 40-foot-wide stage of the company’s 740-seat American Airlines Theatre….
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The print version of my review of The Home Place is slightly abridged. To read the uncut online version, go here.
To read my review of Time and the Conways, go here.
A featurette about the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of The Home Place: