Theater

Teresa Deevy’s Newly Discovered Plays Illuminate Everyday Irish Life

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Women are the standout figures in The Suitcase Under the Bed, an illuminating program of four short plays by Teresa Deevy. Until lately a nearly forgotten Irish dramatist, Deevy (1894–1963) emerged as a rising star of Dublin’s celebrated Abbey Theatre, which premiered six of her plays during the Thirties. Later in that decade, Deevy apparently ran afoul of both a turnabout in the Abbey leadership and a home-and-hearth national mood in which the playwright and the women she depicted were thought too subversive to be encouraged. Despite being deaf since she was twenty, Deevy subsequently and successfully wrote radio dramas, but her theater career was effectively ended.

Jonathan Bank, the producing artistic director of the Mint Theater Company, which unearths neglected works, has been a key player in Deevy’s rediscovery. Between 2010 and 2013, the Mint presented three of Deevy’s full-length plays to considerable acclaim. And now — even as the Abbey Theatre itself concurrently revives the playwright’s Katie Roche — the Mint offers The Suitcase Under the Bed, so named for a batch of manuscripts that Bank found packed away on the floor in some luggage at Deevy’s ancestral home. Three of the four works staged here at the Beckett Theatre have never before been produced; none are revealed as lost masterpieces, yet all reflect Deevy’s sensitive style of oblique realism and her substantially intriguing female characters.

The King of Spain’s Daughter, which the Abbey premiered in 1935, is the strongest drama. It regards Annie, a fiery and fanciful youngster, who is forced by her brutal father to choose between drudgery as an indentured factory worker and marriage to a dull swain. The bleak, oppressive rural society in which these people exist is embodied by Mrs. Marks, a careworn neighbor who admonishes Annie: “Did you think you needn’t suffer like the rest of the world? Did you think you were put here to walk plain and easy through the gates of heaven?” Ultimately, Annie’s romantic streak becomes her saving grace.

The lightest piece, Strange Birth, centers upon a servant who resists a postman’s wooing because she sees how the tenants in the boardinghouse where she toils have been burned by love. In the Cellar of My Friend, which possesses spiritual undertones, observes a profound change in the relationships between a middle-aged widower, his adult son, and the young woman living next door. Although Holiday House suffices as a one-act, some viewers might wish the piquant situation were expanded into a full-length comedy: Two women — one married to Derek, the other his former fiancée newly married to Derek’s brother — uneasily share a month-long summer rental with their spouses, alongside the brothers’ urbane mother and busybody sister.

Under Bank’s circumspect direction, seven actors competently depict various characters. Cynthia Mace is admirable in distinctive performances as the stoical Mrs. Marks; an anxious landlady; a good-hearted spinster; and Derek’s elegant mama. In The King of Spain’s Daughter, Sarah Nicole Deaver’s impetuous Annie makes for an effectively unlikely mate for A.J. Shively’s stolid laborer. Late-Thirties attire by Andrea Varga and the slightly stylized, mostly pastel-shaded sets by Vicki R. Davis neatly provide visual support for this sampler of works by a playwright whose subtle stories about everyday people at times suggest Chekhov spoken with an Irish brogue.

The Suitcase Under the Bed
Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd Streeet
minttheater.org
212-239-6200
Through September 30

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