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Sive is a 5 out of 5 at Irish Classical; only an Eejit would miss this one

THE BASICS:  SIVE, a 1959 drama by Irish playwright John B. Keane presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, directed by Vincent O’Neill, runs through November 25, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3 & 7:30, Sunday at 2 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street (853-ICTC). Full service bar. Runtime: Including one intermission, a little under three hours, but the time just flies by.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Mike and Mena are a hard scrabble childless couple who have taken in and raised Mike’s illegitimate niece Sive [rhymes with dive], whose father seduced and then abandoned Mike’s sister. Mena bitterly resents having to share her humble abode and scarce resources not only with Sive, but also with Nanna, her disapproving mother in law. A local matchmaker dangles an offer before Mena. It turns out that a very successful, but very old, local farmer named Seán Dóta has been admiring Sive as she bicycles back and forth to convent school. If Mena and Mike will marry Sive off to the old man, they will not only receive a two-hundred-pound reward, but Dóta will also take in Nanna. To Mena this is a “win-win.” Sive herself would rather marry a handsome young carpenter named Liam Scuab, who happens to be a distant cousin of the man who abandoned Sive’s mother.  Mike is caught in the middle, both repelled by the idea of handing Sive over to the old farmer, but also convinced Liam’s entire bloodline is cursed. Meanwhile, Nanna, unlike her son, thinks of young Liam as a very suitable husband, and schemes with two tinkers against Mike and Mena.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This season is shaping up to be very representative of the Irish Classical Theatre’s three- genre programming.  Traditionally they offer something 20th century and gritty about crushed dreams and plans that go nowhere (GOLDEN BOY); something about Irish down and outers barely getting by either in Dublin or on some godforsaken farm (SIVE), and then something witty and clever in the PBS “Masterpiece Theatre” vein (SENSE AND SENSIBILITY coming in January). Those are the types of plays that are “in their wheelhouse” and they do them very well. Don’t miss this one.

I know that in the past I have expressed some dismay at the windswept desolation of many of the “Irish” plays, but SIVE rises above any concerns.

Where to begin singing the praises of this production?

Where to begin singing the praises of this production? Let’s start with the director, Vincent O’Neill, who once acted in this play under the aegis of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre (for which it was originally written) and knows that just as there are many themes (he lists isolation, poverty, sex and marriage, religion, class structure, and loneliness) to this play, each and every character is vitally important, and attention must be paid to each and every encounter. This is a longish play and it never once loses focus or intensity. Several years ago, at a talkback following BEHOLD THE SONS OF ULSTER MARCHING TOWARD THE SOMME in which the actors had to speak with a Northern Irish accent (as opposed to a Limerick accent we often think of as Irish), the actors mentioned that Vincent O’Neill had a rule that whenever in the building, even if only to drop by, the actors had to speak in the accent and voice of their character. I must believe that the same rule was in place here, because the effect was never dropped.

The technical elements were also flawless, including the set and lighting by Brian Cavanagh, with its rustic central all-purpose table and all four corners of the “theater in the round” put to good use. It was believably poverty-stricken, and the music selected by Tom Makar matched the set, for the most part mournful, wailing, keening, and while Irish, certainly not your standard St. Patrick’s Day soundtrack.

The costumes designed by Bethany Kasperek were believable and unique to each character, and the hair and make-up designed by Susan Drozd were beyond wonderful. I’m still visualizing Josephine Hogan’s wig, all wild as the pipe-smoking character she is.

My one nit to pick was the use of plastic plates and drinking glasses. Is this an OSHA rule to protect the actors? All across town, in just about every theater, the lack of a realistic “clink” of earthenware, china, or glass keeps shattering “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

You’d think that with at least six of the major production companies in Buffalo this month all competing for the best actors that the talent pool might get shallow, but that’s simply not the case in Buffalo’s Theatre District.

You’d think that with at least six of the major production companies in Buffalo this month all competing for the best actors that the talent pool might get shallow, but that’s simply not the case in Buffalo’s Theatre District. In order of appearance, we first see Irish Classical co-founder Josephine Hogan as Nanna, bent over her peat fire, pipe in mouth, in a role that lesser actors could turn into a cartoon, but Hogan brings a sense of love and Irish wit and acting skill that quickly sends a message to the audience to “relax and let us professionals do our jobs.” Hogan’s twinkling eyes are in sharp contrast to the cold, grey ashes of Alex Malejs [rhymes with “malaise”] as Mena. Malejs always brings a fierce, conflicted intensity to any role she plays with looks that could pierce titanium, and, like Hogan, her name on any playbill guarantees a must-see performance. On stage with these two titans, holding her own, is young Kiana Duggan-Haas, an Amherst High School senior, as Sive.

By the way, the name “Sive” is the Irish-Gaelic form of the name Shiela, the playwright’s sister. Now you know.

The men also provide unforgettable characters, starting with Patrick Moltane as the conflicted Mike, whose voice is so heavy with overtones it’s still echoing in my ears. I must say that Ray Boucher created a whole character out of the matchmaker, Tomasheen Seán Rua, adding an element of desperate insanity that provided great contrast to some of the more earthbound roles. Peter S. Raimondo had one of the best Irish accents I’ve ever heard from any Buffalonian. No “Lucky Charms” leprechaun accent here; this young man sounded completely authentic as Liam. And two old-time Irish Classical character actor stalwarts, David Lundy as the aged Seán Dóta, stumbling along and hacking up a lung with every other step, and Gerry Maher as Pats Bocock, a traveling tinker man, remind us of the theatrical maxim “there are no small roles.” Johnny Barden played, or rather sang to great effect, the role of Carthalawn, the musical son of the tinker man, who acts as a one-man “Greek chorus” singing out loud to the accompaniment of his bodrhan (Irish drum) those things which must not be spoken.

All in all, this is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen anywhere, at the Shaw, at Stratford, in New York. In the handy glossary provided in the program, there are four words for idiot or fool: Amadawn, Bostoon, Eejit, and Oinseach. Don’t be any of those. Don’t miss SIVE.

Lead image: Josephine Hogan as Nanna and Kiana Duggan-Haas as Sive

UP NEXT: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY in a contemporary adaption of Jane Austen’s beloved novel about the Dashwood sisters, January 18 through February 10, 2019.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool (amadawn, bostoon, eejit, or oinseach) to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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