Conor McPherson’s play The Veil is a play set in an Irish mansion in the country in 1822. It’s story takes us through two weeks of time seeing hopes being sprung, dashed and meekly born again. Daughters to be married off, old friends to be depended on, relationships to be strained, and then there’s the ghost that slowly starts taking over the story. Eventually, this tale winds itself down from a rolling boil into a simmering broth, but never, even as it ends, lets the heat die altogether.
Quotidian Theater has done a very nice job with this production. Several of the players are wonderful, and fill the stage with wit and wisdom.
Jack Sbarbori does an exquisite job with the sets and the sound. Jarring at just the right moments and eerie, without preening or becoming campy, in turns, his sound design keeps the mood at just the right pitch to carry off the scenes being constructed on stage. His set is flawless. The play takes place in a single room, and you are never at a loss for something new and interesting to find in the nooks and crannies of this beautifully appointed sitting room. Unfortunately, the costumes, while pretty, are generally a bit ill-fitting for those with the means to afford silks and jewels. But, the overall effect is one of opulence under restraint.
Jack Sbarbori is also responsible for the direction. The actors seem, at times to be offering up completely different styles of performance. Some create realism with their characters, and others offer up pseudo-caricatures. And while I understand that one of the distinctions between the high born and the low born was that the aristocracy spoke with an English accent and the peasants spoke with an Irish, I didn’t understand the choice as the Lady of the House clearly stated that she had spent only a single month in London in her whole life.
And there were some blocking issues. Most scenes are spent with characters in static positions watching intently as someone monologues at the center of the stage. And while soliloquies are lovely in the right setting, I felt that this setting didn’t lend itself to beautifying them.
Michele Osherow as Lady Madeleine Lambroke (the Lady of the House) delivers a beautifully restrained performance. She maintains a fire underneath her constrained aristocratic facade, which, when broken creates some truly memorable scenes (slapping her daughter is particularly upsetting). And her ability to balance her feelings for her daughter and those of her loyalty to her duties and her land holdings are dynamic and truly engaging. Chelsea Mayo is quite charming as the forcefully direct daughter of the family. Her choices, while sometimes confounding, are always performed with panache and energy.
Steve LaRocque is the monologuer of the group. His tendency to drift to downstage center and almost address the audience left several scenes feeling unbalanced until he moved back into the realm that the other players occupied, but the scenes in which his booming voice was needed were a bit terrifying.
Michael Avolio does a fine job as William Fingal (groundskeeper), though I would have liked to see more defined character choices.There were many moments when he seemed about to show you something truly insightful that seemed to stop just short of beautiful, leaving me feeling let down that he had not taken me all the way there. John Decker’s (drunken philosopher) pauses were so numerous you might think he was actually drunk on stage.
Christine Alexander plays the demure maid perfectly – showing deference in one scene leading to a fiery, unpolished youth in the next. Her emotional turns kept me interested while her ability to maintain focus in her scenes kept me engaged even when others were taking the spotlight. Stephanie Mumford is the maid with personality. And when no one else on stage matches her energy level (which was almost never) she seemed truly out of place for a person who had been a servant for so many decades .
And finally, we have the gem of the show, hidden in plain sight. Jane Squier Bruns as the elderly matriarch of the aristocrats has less than half a dozen lines. She sits on the stage silently, until needed, and delivers each of her lines with perfect timing and absolute commitment. She is witty, poignant, and beautiful in turns and is truly a joy to watch.
The Veil is eye-catching and ear-catching, and the story will capture you for most of the evening. So, if you are in Bethesda hop on over to the Writer’s Center to see Quotidian’s lovely production of The Veil.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
The Veil plays at Quotidian Theatre Company performing at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006, Extension 1, and ask for Quotidian Theatre, or purchase them online.