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The Naturalists

In rural Ireland, a spirited young woman becomes the housekeeper for two troubled middle-aged brothers with dark secrets in this uneven but well-played drama.

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Tim Ruddy, Sarah Street and John Keating in a scene from “The Naturalists” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

A tender character study of a spirited young woman becoming the housekeeper for two troubled middle-aged brothers devolves into a clumsy hostage drama in playwright Jaki McCarrick’s The Naturalists.

The Sloane brothers live in a messy mobile home in rural Ireland in 2010. The morose Billy is in his 40’s, drinks beer and watches a lot of television. The cheerful Francis is in his 50’s, gives nature lectures to students and sings Tom Waits songs at the piano. This domicile is supposed to be temporary until they finish the over schedule renovation of their dilapidated nearby family compound. They decide that they need help around the house.

Enter the charming Josie. She is a 30ish vegan who idolizes Isadora Duncan and dreams of opening a local dance company. Soon she is cooking them vegetarian stews and bringing sunshine into their lives. An intense bond develops between the three.

Michael Mellamphy, Tim Ruddy, John Keating and Sarah Street in a scene from “The Naturalists” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

In the second act, the gun-toting John-Joe Doherty intrudes. He is brusque, uncouth and a former cohort of Francis’ from their days in the Irish Republican Army. They participated in the 1979 Narrow Water bombing which killed 18 British soldiers. Francis served 12 years in prison for this incident and John-Joe went on the lam and has now emerged to claim the £10,000 he entrusted to Billy. Maureen, the Sloanes’ roguish mother ran off with the money 18 years ago and that causes melodramatic complications.

Ms. McCarrick’s appealing premise of redemptive romance is in fact subsidiary to the IRA angle as in the program she states that this event is the inspiration for her play. The two threads haven’t been skillfully fused together, resulting in a disjointed experience totaling 13 scenes.  McCarrick packs in a great deal of backstory to her well-drawn characters and her effective dialogue is marvelously Irish in style with plenty of wit, eloquence and reflectiveness.

Co-directors Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment’s staging has steadiness and simplicity which serves most of the play well, particularly in the outdoor sequences that convey an awe of nature. Julie Voshells choreography enlivens the occasional dances between the characters. The second act’s crime drama twists don’t really jell even with Ron Piretti’s proficient fight direction. The engaging cast’s performances are all strong and they employ appropriate accents.

John Keating, Sarah Street and Tim Ruddy in a scene from “The Naturalists” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

The lean, curly-haired and animated John Keating brings a haunting and soulful depth to Francis. Tim Ruddy as Billy perfectly exhibits melancholy and resilience. With girlish feistiness and tremendous warmth, Sarah Street is a lovely Josie. Bearded, heavyset and playfully bellicose, Michael Mellamphy is sly and suitably menacing as John-Joe. 

Scenic designer Chika Shimizu’s terrific recreation of a mobile home encompassing the stage is artfully cluttered with shabby furniture, bookshelves and strewn with beer cans. Caitlin Smith Rapoports lighting design ranges from crisply realistic to dreamy. Musical interludes, gunshots and outdoor ambience are all rendered by Christopher Ross-Ewart’s clear sound design.  Jeans and plaid shirts are the main pieces of costume designer Grier Coleman’s authentic selections.  

This world premiere production of The Naturalists is presented by The Pond Theatre Company which is devoted to showcasing the work of emerging British and Irish playwrights in the United States. With fine tuning of its writing and staging, it could very well more cohesively succeed.

The Naturalists (through September 23, 2018)

The Pond Theatre Company

Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212- 279-4200 or visit http://www.thepondtheatre.org

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (538 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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