By: Isa Goldberg
July 5, 2019: Irish playwright, and well-known actor/director of his day, Micheal Mac Liammoir’s 1948 drama is making its New York stage debut at The Mint Theater. Mining theatrical works hitherto unknown to us is the company’s mission.
Here, the action takes place in Ireland, in an isolated farming community. It’s a place surrounded in by mountains, forgotten by most of the world. Returning home from his years in London, Tom (Jesse Pennington) arrives with his bride of three days, Bairbre (Brenda Meaney). Hoping to build a new life, far from the chaos and constraints of city life, the newlyweds find the home to which they return ungiving, and unforgiving.
Aidan Redmond directs the production with a keen sense of the actors’ physical reality. Raised by an abusive father (Con Horgan), Tom can’t even open his mouth. His lips are sealed, and his speech is contorted. His upper body, fraught with stress, bears the chains of his psychic life. Pennington consistently sustains his constraints. The other men, too, living in this barren society hold a festering sense of tension in their physical bearing, signaling violence.
Complicity is at work here, and along with that the intrigue of characters who are either running away from, or hiding hideous secrets, etched in a bleak past. When it erupts in murder, the need for social justice focuses on the weakest and most innocent character. Batty Wallace (Liam Forde) is a deaf mute who we see at the beginning, gingerly playing his tin whistle around Tom’s father, Martin’s house, as if to rouse him.
Far deeper issues of arousal, however, arrive when Tom introduces Martin to his bride. In this role, Brenda Meaney gives a deft portrayal of a woman of the streets, now plagued by her ugly past, and still victimized by the violence of men. Deftly shifting emotions, Meaney takes razor sharp turns into her character’s psyche, revealing a complex inner life, and exposing a web of lies.
In contrast, Horgan is a brutal one-note man, coarse, vulgar, and hungry for everything this desolate world cannot yield. Only the young villagers, especially McKenna Quigly Harrington as the ingenue, resonate with the potential of a more fruitful outcome.
That the original production at Dublin’s Gate Theater was greeted by audience protests should come as no surprise. Liammoir’s drama reveals morality at its worst. Prostitution is merely a symptom of the disease.
Creating the desolation of that world, Vicki R. Davis’ set of a small stone house, and its interior are realistically designed. But veering out of this realism is the vista of the world beyond. It’s a jarring mix, surrounded by the coldness of stone.
The Mountains Look Different ***
Mint Theater Company
410 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or MintTheater.org
Running Time: 2 hours, One Intermission.
May 30th through July 14, 2019
Photography: Todd Cerveris