Theatre Review: ‘Sive’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Josephine Hogan and Kiana Duggan-Haas in “Sive” at Irish Classical Theatre.

Matchmaking is a resounding theme in Buffalo’s theatre district this week.

At Shea’s Performing Art Center, Mama and Papa in “Fiddler on the Roof” use the services of the village Yente to seek spouses for their daughters. It’s a tradition.  Across the street at the Andrews Theatre, home of Irish Classical Theatre Company, the village matchmaker in “Sive” scouts a much older man for the production’s title character, but there are no happy songs to sing about it. It’s just tragic.

. . .a good solid drama with an extraordinary cast.

The world hadn’t changed much between late 19th century Imperialist Russia and the 1950s Irish countryside when it comes to young women and the pursuit of marriage. A young girl’s life is still a commodity to be sold for financial security.

“Sive,” written by John B. Keane is one of Ireland’s most produced plays and is a popular bit of required reading in the country’s high schools. It’s a compelling family drama where three generations of the Glavin family share a farm house, secrets, and enduring shame.

Sive the girl is the illegitimate niece of Mike Glavin who promised his sister on her deathbed that he would look after the girl. A noble plan, but Mike’s wife Mena (for those who like anagrams, ‘mean’ is the perfect fit)  resents Sive, the memory of her dead mother, and the presence of the Glavin matriarch who’s also in her home. Mena makes a plan with Thomasheen the matchmaker to marry off Sive to Sean Dota, an elderly farmer who has his eye on Sive’s youthful beauty. There’s a twist: the Glavin’s don’t need to provide a dowry. Sean Dota will pay Mena for Sive’s wedding vows plus a bonus to Thomasheen.  Sive wants nothing of this. She likes her convent school and the attention of a fine young lad name Liam, who unfortunately is kin once removed from the man who fathered her.

Long-simmering resentment pervades this dark story. The Mike and Nanna Glavin hate Liam and his family for causing shame to their family. Mena hates everyone who has more than she. Sive is young and hungry for details of the parents she never knew.  

Director Vincent O’Neill was working with the cream of the crop for this one. A tense and taut tragedy in a beloved script and a superb cast make for a excellent albeit heart-wrenching production. Aleks Malejs is absolutely hateful as Mena (when she’s called a ‘horrible bitch’ in the second act, you want to stand up and cheer). Her constantly scowling face, tightly pulled back hair, and drab outfits speak volumes at a glance. She rocks the evil persona. Patrick Moltane is her meek-as-a-lamb husband. Ray Boucher is Thomasheen, the all for the money matchmaker. He’s sprite as a pixie, artfully irritating, and cunning like a fox. Kiana Duggan-Haas is honest and forthright as Sive. She joins Peter S. Raimundo (Liam, Sive’s would-be young suitor) and Johnny Barden (the singing son of the village tinker) making ICTC debuts. So good to see young actors awarded meaty roles alongside strong and seasoned actors.  Josephine Hogan is Nanna Glavin, doing her best in a losing battle to protect Sive from Mena’s machinations. David Lundy is shuffling and stammering as the rheumy-eyed old farmer who desires Sive as his bride. Gerry Maher is the traveling tinker, the source of news and prescient entertainment in the parish.

“Sive” is the kind of production that leaves you emotionally drained. You’re angry about the injustice for a young girl’s hardship and empathetic about rural poverty. Remembering that the show is only set in 1950 – not that long ago – is even more disconcerting.

While this isn’t an uplifting night in the theatre, it’s a good solid drama with an extraordinary cast. Brian Cavanaugh’s set design captures the rough hewn life in the Irish countryside (the only distraction was the obviously plastic dinner plates clattering alongside tin cups and plank tables). I love how he suggests walls and windows and doors with free-hanging frames and hardware. Tom Makar’s subtle sound design had me looking over my shoulder for cows lowing in the distance. They create the atmosphere that I always love about ICTC productions.

Ironically while this is Duggan-Haas’ ICTC debut, she and Boucher were last seen together in this TV commercial. That’s Buffalo for you.

Running Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“Sive” is presented at Irish Classical Theatre Company, until November 25, 2018. For more information, click here.