Monday, December 02, 2002

The Mai (Dobama)

'THE MAI' at Dobama Irish through and through

The Irish are known for their telling of tales which are often long in the relating, center on dysfunctional families, and wander into the maudlin. Think O’Casey, Beckett and Synge and you have a feel for Irish writing. Though Marina Carr, the author of THE MAI, now having its Ohio Premiere at Dobama Theatre, doesn’t consider herself to be in a direct line from all the great Irish playwrights of the past, her play does follow their traditions.

THE MAI is an examination of love and obsession. The play concerns a four generation Irish family who find themselves in constant angst, conflict, and fighting for a sense of self, while being consumed by passion. It takes the view that the greatest love is to be found in another, and supports the myth of finding a soul mate to whom one is completely and eternally bound. In order for that to happen, a person must be willing to let go of her own self. As in much of Irish lore, it is an all or nothing effect, with strong melodramatic underpinnings.

The main character, Mai is a woman consumed by her love of a philandering musician. The love defines her and it controls her. For five years she has survived in his self imposed absence. To entice him back she has built a beautiful home on the shores of Loch Owl. Here, her Robert can compose his music, inspired by her adoration and devotion. It will be a shrine to their love. He returns, but her dreams that he will never leave her again and will be eternally faithful are soon dashed.

Mai's sixteen year old daughter Millie recounts the story, which parallels an Irish legend of tragic lovers who once supposedly lived on the lake where the play takes place. Carr pits myth against reality, illusion against truth, and basic human need against desire. As is the case in most Irish tales, the ending is not one of happiness.

The play is long and has little in the way of emotional texturing except for the actions of Mai’s grandmother. The long speeches and lack of dynamic action are broken by cello interludes which help enhance the mood.

As Mai, Bernadette Clemens never quite convinces of her obsessive love toward Robert. The shadings needed to develop the character are on the surface rather than deep in the soul. Andrew May gives his usual competent performance as Robert. He has to dig to find depth in the character as the part is not written with the same quality as the author uses in developing her women. Sherri Britton and Mary Jan Nottage give fine portrayals as Mai’s aunts. As Millie, Tyler Postma gives a surface level performance.

Dorothy Silver is perfect as Grandma Fraochlan. Her drug induced scene with Tracey Field, who portrays Mai’s sister Beck, is hysterically delightful.

Capsule judgement: Silver, along with the marvelous cello interludes by the very talented Joshua Roman, are reason enough to attend the production.