‘The Mai’ Brings Irish Humor & Tragedy to Arlington Friends of the Drama

04Mar14

Directed by former Wakefield resident Nancy Curran Willis

maiSt. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and as much as we’d like to, most of us can’t just drop everything and go off to celebrate in Ireland. Fortunately, the Arlington Friends of the Drama are offering a very attractive alternative that will whisk you off to Ireland for two charming hours. And you won’t even need a carry-on.

The Mai (pronounced “May”) is Irish playwright Marina Carr’s lyrical and allegorical tragicomedy about love, tradition, heritage and family, told through a mix of Irish storytelling, Greek mythology and feminine politics.

curran-willisThe show also has a local link, as award winning director Nancy Curran Willis is at the helm of the production. Willis graduated from Wakefield High School in 1965 (as Nancy Sturtevant) and has won awards for directing both professional and community theater, including a 2008 Elliot Norton Award (Boston’s equivalent of the Tony) for Best Director and Best Production for Angels in America.

The Mai opens in the living room of a lovely Irish countryside cottage. Through a large picture window, we see a row of trees leading to what we will soon learn is Owl Lake. To the left and just behind the living room is a music room lined with shelves of books and framed academic degrees.

The cottage is a physical testament to Mai’s obsessive love for her wayward and straying musician husband, Robert (played by Iain Bason). In her monomaniacal determination to lure Robert back, Mai (Jennifer Soucy) even sent her children off to live with another family so she could take a second job to pay for the house. It appears to have fulfilled its purpose, as Robert has just returned after a five-year absence (presumably in America).

The story is told through the eyes of Mai’s now adult daughter, Millie (Jenna Lourenco), who was 11 years old when her father left. She recalls that in the immediate aftermath of Robert’s departure, her mother would incongruously send her to the butcher shop for a needle and thread. It was as if, Millie recalls, her mother “was seeking a magic thread” that would stitch the family back together.

Millie also recalls that Mai would sit silently in the cottage’s picture window sending mental messages to Robert.

mai_robertWhen Robert finally returns we see him playing his cello in the music room that Mai has built for him. He soon emerges and affectionately runs his bow over Mai’s body, a not-so-subtle metaphor for the way that he is “playing” her.

As we have come to expect with Irish writers, The Mai is full of black humor and boasts a cast of colorful characters.

There’s the 100 year-old hedonist, Grandma Fraochlan (Anne Sullivan), who enjoys a wee taste of mulberry wine and has a weakness for the opium pipe, a habit she picked up from her Arabian father. When she’s had a few, Grandma is apt to wax melancholy about her own youthful love for “the nine-fingered fisherman.”

mai_castThen there are Mai’s judgmental aunts, Agnes (Tricia Akowicz) and Julie (Demetra Tseckares-Restuccia) who represent the Catholic Church’s omnipresence in Ireland.

Katie Higgins as Mai’s married sister, Connie, and Nellie Farrington as her 37 year-old single sister Beck round out the cast. They never contacted Mai during Robert’s long absence, but now that he’s back they are only too happy to offer their pessimistic assessment of recent developments.

Things at first seem fine between Mai and Robert, although none the relatives who come and visit share Mai’s giddy optimism, with good reason, as it turns out.

When Mai asks Robert at one point what made him decide to come home, Robert reveals that he had a dream that Mai had died and his cello case served as her coffin. Probably not the answer Mai was hoping for.

Jenna Lourenco, who wrote several academic essays on The Mai and now teaches at Emmanuel College, explained after the show that placing the article “The” before Mai’s name is a Celtic tradition of respect. Mai is certainly the central figure in this family. But her unrequited loyalty to Robert and her tragically idealistic view of romantic love are simultaneously her most admirable and her most damaging qualities.

An original score composed by Valerie Ellen Forgione and performed by cellist Antione Malfroy-Carmine enhances this memorable play.

The Mai runs Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 9 at 4 p.m. at the Arlington Friends of the Drama, 22 Academy St., Arlington, MA. Purchase tickets online or phone 781-646-5922.

[Set Designer, Doug Desilets; Lighting Design, Mark Stickler; Sound Design, Bob Pascucci; Costume Design, Andrea Goodman; Hair & Makeup Design, Jack Wickwire; Production Manager, Ginger Webb.]

(This story originally appeared in the March 4, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.)

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