“I’m not drunk, I’m trapped.”
That single line sums up the key to The Mai, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Playwright Marina Carr examines the lives of seven women over four generations, each with their triumphs and tragedies that knit their family story.
The Mai (Kate LoConti Alcocer) is at the center: a mom and educator, she loves Robert her philandering husband (Chris Avery) , even when he takes off for five years and comes home with promises ne’er to be kept. Sisters Beck (Cassie Cameron) and Connie (Megan Callahan) have their own struggles as they come and go from the lovely lakeside house The Mai built for her kids while Robert is pursuing his career and diversions. Grandma Fraochlan (Pamela Rose Mangus) tells her heirs hearfelt stories about their Mum’s short life and wistful stories of her late husband, the nine-fingered fisherman, between glasses of Mulberry wine and pulls on her pipe. Aunts Julie (Mary Moebius) and Agnes (Lisa Ludwig) in turn gossip and judge and ground this family as they keep a close hold on their practical handbags. It’s up to The Mai’s daughter Millie (Christine Turturro) as narrator to tell this story of her family, her legacy, and her future from her perspective. A clever plot device, Millie is both on the periphery and central to this story as she reflects on the dynamics that created the life she is yet to lead. And yes, they are all trapped, either by circumstances or in their memories or their designs for living. Even globe-trotting, bed-hopping Robert is trapped by his choices and questionable decisions.
It’s not a story laced with joy; while there are plenty of laughable moments, it’s The Mai’s overwhelming sadness that she’s not living the life she deserves that guides this story. Sure Grandma is a hoot; Magnus plays her to the hilt, with a scarlet ribbon holding back her tumble of grey curls, as she repeats the same stories about the men of her past and the one who captured her heart. Every family has Aunts like Agnes and Julie, and Moebius and Ludwig are perfection in these roles, with a look here, a comment there, and waning patience with their mother’s ramblings. Alcocer’s anguish pervades, even in the seemingly happy moment when Robert returns home with flowers, her favorite perfume and drink as peace offerings. Aye but the promise of fidelity you don’t quite hear is swiftly broken and his stern dressing down of his bride for having the audacity to criticize his latest girlfriend is exquisitely evidenced on Alcocer’s drawn face. Turturro’s finely nuanced narration ties all this together. She’s neither apologetic or condemning of her family story; she fills in the story between the story pragmatically yet with heart. I found myself watching her expressions (sometimes more than the central action) from her off-to-the-side position on set; she was actively taking it all in and processing as she watched the family story unfold. She bears responsibility for the next generation of this complex family.
Director Josephine Hogan made superb casting choices across the board with this stellar cast. I always admire ICTC’s well-designed sets with bits and pieces of architectural elements suggesting walls and ceilings. Collin Ranney set designer was lovely and Jayson Clark’s lighting design had some subtle moments, too, with lingering illuminations at intermission and the final scene. There might have been some sound challenges the night I was in the house: Robert’s off-stage cello “playing” sounded tinny and truly canned (or perhaps that was sound designer Tom Makar’s intention to distort the usually elegant sound of this instrument to underscore Robert’s lack of humanity for his family.)
The Mai may make you chuckle in moments (seriously, I love Mangus as the grandmother and all her endearing quirks) but mostly you’ll leave disheartened that relationships fail, sad that hurting pervades the human condition, and wistful that sometimes family love is hard to feel.
The Mai is onstage to February 5: visit irishclassical.com. Run time is a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission.