“Deirdre” is as sharp as the swords its characters wield. But it is a blade with two edges, both helped and at times hampered by the style and performances that director Sam Lasman ’12 attempts to bring to the stage.
The play, based on the unfinished John Millington Synge work “Deirdre of the Sorrows,” is rooted in Irish mythology. A prophecy has foretold that the titular character (Sarika Arya ’11), a beautiful young woman, will be the downfall of any man who loves her. Seeking to keep Deirdre for himself, King Conchobar (Mitchel Kawash ’12) imprisons her in the wilderness. But Deirdre is unwilling to marry an old man — she runs away with the handsome, young Naisi (Spencer Klavan ’13). Yet fate eventually catches up to the couple, and rather than grow old together, the two return to Conchobar, and the tragedy that awaits them all.
Throughout the roughly hour-and-40 minute production, Lasman is determined to inject his personal vision into the adaptation. The results are almost entirely positive. Opting for primarily authentic music (by way of Rachel LaViola’s ’12 soft singing and Liv Coates’s ’12 capable instrumental accompaniment) gives the play a dreamlike quality that falls in line with its mythological premise.
That being said, sometimes the stylistic choices can come across as jarring. When Deirdre discusses a painting she made in an early scene, other performers appear on stage to play out the action of the picture. This could easily pass as art for art’s sake, rather than adding anything substantial to the play. Lasman also chose to incorporate sound recordings in the peformance that often drown out the characters completely. But this problem is easily fixed and does little to detract from the play as a whole.
Utlimately, these decisions are secondary to the story and acting.
The drama is enwrapped in themes of time and love. Conchobar is both lonely and painfully aware of his age, so he turns to Deirdre as a means to escape from the bleak end that awaits him. Similarly, Naisi, though young and strong, accepts that there is more to life than fighting and the pleasures of brotherly camaraderie, and so for him Deirdre represents the next stage of his maturation: unbounded and passionate love.
But Deirdre is far from the sympathetic tragic heroine. Her young age is on full display throughout the production, and her romantic reasoning — that it is better to die young than to live to old age — leads to her doom. It often seems that Deirdre does not even know what she wants out of life. Her opinion and choices flip constantly, and she tends to come across as simply a repressed and adventurous girl. But Arya’s performance is far from annoying. She pulls off the part with aplomb, as do her male lovers. Their relationships are the foundations upon which the play stands, and the point about which Lasman appears most concerned.
The chemistry among the three main actors carries the story, but the supporting roles tend to be uneven despite their great potential. The interactions between the nurse Lavarcham (Shunori Ramanathan ’13) and Conchobar, and between Naisi and the soldier Fergus (Jordan Ascher ’14) could be among the most memorable in the play, but the chemistry is simply lacking. Many other parts are just lost in the shuffle.
But these criticisms are not nearly enough to undo the play. “Deirdre” forces us to evaluate what we love and the importance we place on the passage of time. Lasman has achieved something noteworthy: a passionate play that engages us on a fundamental level, very much like the young woman at the center of it all.