The adjective “19th-century” isn’t exactly a turn-on. And given the way historical minutiae, regional dialect, and robust sideburns often turn tedious when transported onstage, the prospect of attending a period piece can incite theatergoing dread.
So it’s a relief to discover that the Irish Repertory Theatre’s Banished Children of Eve—a Civil War story adapted by Kelly Younger from a novel by Peter Quinn—is an engaging and vivacious work. Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, Banished takes place amid the 1863 Draft Riots, during which largely Irish-American throngs erupted into racially charged violence on the streets of New York.
During a single summer evening, we see songwriter Stephen Foster holing up in a Bowery bar, while an Irish actor in blackface performs scenes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin alongside his biracial paramour. An Irish maid (a pitch-perfect Amanda Quaid) goes on a date, while a freed slave sells fish at the Fulton market
Narratives intermingle, gliding along with the aid of a rotating set and a mesmerizing cocktail of choreography and sound design. While the plotting isn’t quite clear enough to lead Children to the shattering close it aims for, the production’s texture and eminently capable cast make for a rich experience. It’s a Gotham of the past, but one that’s very much alive.