Penny Jackson’s The Battles of Richmond Hill, directed with attention to detail by Kathy Gail MacGowan, is a gem of a play, a semi-precious gem to be sure, but one that still shines.
Battles, a slice of working class life with fantasy overtones is an oddity for HERE, the arts center that leans more toward the avant-garde. Battles appears at HERE as part of the SubletSeries@HERE.
It is a well crafted story of a feisty seventy-something Sheila O’Connor (Nora Chester who does feisty beautifully) whose grandson, physician Brian O’Connor (an earnest Jordan Ahnquist), who worries about her believes she would be better off in a retirement community in New Jersey. Brian tries to force the issue by telling Sheila that he has packed her a suitcase and is parked down the block waiting for her to accompany him to New Jersey.
Lindsay Ryan, Alan Safier and Jordan Ahnquist and Nora Chester in a scene from Penny Jackson’s “The Battles of Richmond Hill” (Photo credit: Emily Hewitt)
This would mean leaving her beloved Richmond Hill, in particular her home away from home, the Dublin Rose presided over by the all-knowing bartender Sean MacGuire (Mac Brydon, a perfect calm center amidst the little dramas roiling around him). It would also mean leaving her memories of her happy life with her husband, Frank and her troubled past with her daughter Mary.
Sitting quietly at a table is Frank O’Connor, Sheila’s husband (Kevin Gilmartin who fills the stage with warmth and love) listening to his wife’s laments and often commenting on her behavior.
Also making several appearances—at least in Sheila’s mind—is Mary O’Connor, Sheila’s prodigal, druggy daughter whose ghostly figure ages from childhood to teenager to damaged adult. Lindsay Ryan is convincing at each age, particularly as the self-centered addict who threatens her parents.
Sheila is also fond of Alexi, a local Russian émigré played with gruff humor and warmth by Alan Safier. Alexi and Sheila are a bit more than drinking partners, but not quite a romantic couple. He supports her emotionally and, even better, buys the drinks, usually double shots of vodka causing Sean to dub her Sheila Smirnoff. Unknown to Sheila, Alexi also wants to take her away to live in his son’s cabin in Maine.
Outside a snowstorm rages (wonderful sound design by Jacob Subotnick) giving the bar a claustrophobic ambiance, concentrating the emotions and back stories of the characters which lead to surprising revelations about Sheila, Frank, Mary, Alexi and Sean.
The Dublin Rose is impeccably rendered in David Goldstein set aided by the prop designs by Erica Schnitzer and the subtle lighting of Kia Rogers.
The Battles of Richmond Hill is a small play with big emotions, a finely crafted character study of people who easily might have been caricatured. Jackson’s writing and MacGowan’s direction make these people important.
The Battles of Richmond Hill (through May 11, 2019)
91 Central Productions in association with Anemone Productions
HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-647-0202 or visit http://www.HERE.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission