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Herself

A story about the complicated relationships that develop within families and the communities of which they are a part.

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The cast of Tim McGillicuddy’s “Herself” at Gural Theatre at A.R.T/New York Theatres (Photo credit: Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation)

Scotty Bennett, Critic

Consider, if you will, being drawn back to a place you called “home” but covered with clouds of dark and painful memories. It is a place you escaped as a teenager to find fame and fortune in another land. Now, drawn back by death to that dark abyss of hidden but not forgotten memories, you must find your way to understanding and resolution.

Herself is a story written by Tim McGillicuddy about the complicated relationships that develop within families and the communities of which they are a part, especially when the parents are considered important to the community’s social life. The story focuses not only on the emotional struggles of one family but also on how events involving that family impacted the lives of their friends, neighbors, and customers of the family-owned pub. It is a well-tuned story with some surprising twists and performed by an excellent ensemble.

This production is part of the 2024 Origin 1st Irish Festival. It is under the able direction of Hamilton Clancy, who is also the artistic director of The Drilling Company, the play’s producer. He has brought a sensitive understanding of the characters in the story from his fourth-generation Irish roots. He also plays one of the characters in the show.

The story begins at the wake of Jim Hayes, the co-owner of the pub that has been in his family for three generations. This scene sets the action in motion by providing commentary on Jim and his family. A small group of regulars at the pub mourn Jim’s loss and wonder what will become of their cherished pub without him.

Kathleen Simmonds and Drew Valins Tim McGillicuddy’s “Herself” at Gural Theatre at A.R.T/New York Theatres (Photo credit: Lee Wexler)

This group is the Greek chorus, providing the key characters’ background story while enabling several subplots that define their characters and the connections to the protagonists. This cast does a superb job of embodying their characters and delivering essential story arc elements.

Brenda (Mary Linehan), a nurse at the local hospital, is engaged to Aiden (Patrick Hart), a young man who works with a local contractor, Matthew (Dave Marantz). Linehan and Hart are convincing as a couple struggling to deal with the emotions surrounding issues in their engagement. Anna (Meg Hennessy), a neighbor of Brenda’s and not from Galway, is one of the issues in that relationship. Still, she is also involved in sharing gossip about the history of the Hayes family. Mary (Una Clancy), a former employee of Jim’s father, brings to life the hard-hearted teller of tales about the Hayes family and the interactions of family members with certain community members. Paddy (Drew Valins), co-owner of the pub and bartender, tries to keep a lid on all the conflicting feelings about the Hayes family and the rumors and innuendos surrounding the family.

The heart of the story is Maureen Hayes, Jim Hayes’s sister, who has returned to the town of her childhood only because of her brother’s death. Kathleen Simmonds masterfully embodies the character, whose attitude moves from anger and arrogance as a result of the darkness of her memories to understanding and acceptance as she interacts with the friends and neighbors of her childhood.

Mary Linehan, Skyler Gallun and Patrick Hart in a scene from Tim McGillicuddy’s “Herself” at Gural Theatre at A.R.T/New York Theatres (Photo credit: Lee Wexler)

The anger and arrogance are a product of her resentment toward her father, Martin Hayes, a millionaire real estate developer skillfully played by Hamilton Clancy. They are also an attempt to mask the depth of the emotional pain she has never resolved.

Three characters are pivotal in helping Maureen move to a place of understanding and acceptance. Jane, Jim’s pregnant girlfriend, is solidly played by Natalie Smith and provides a clear and positive insight into Jim and his struggles. Her presence provides a grounding for Maureen’s guilt over losing contact with her brother when she fled to New York City. Valins’ Paddy is the steadying voice of reason and understanding that helps Maureen find a place within the pub community. The most crucial influence is Father Michael, the young parish priest, smoothly played by Skyler Gallun, who had a romantic attachment with Maureen while they were growing up and is now emotionally conflicted because of her return.

Maureen’s conflict with her father is related to her mother’s death when Maureen was a teenager. The conflict became deeper when her father apparently made no effort to help Jim as he slipped deeper into alcoholism and emotional dysfunction. Events surrounding his funeral and the time immediately following added more strain to the already fraught relationship.

Into this emotional stew are thrown the rumors about Maureen’s mother and a possible romantic relationship between her and the local priest in the period before her brother’s birth. The appearance of a relationship between the priest and her mother became grist for the rumor mill up to the present time. These rumors played an influential part in the mental issues faced by Maureen’s brother. The resolution of those stories at the end of the play is surprising.

Mary Linehan, Skyler Gallun and Patrick Hart in a scene from Tim McGillicuddy’s “Herself” at Gural Theatre at A.R.T/New York Theatres (Photo credit: Lee Wexler)

While this is a well-acted and engaging play, it has some production issues. In Maureen’s first appearance at the pub, Simmonds tends to overact the character’s actions when encountering the people there and again when encountering her father at his office. In that scene, Clancy, as Martin, goes from calm to rage to calm in a very short time, so fast that it seems almost psychotic. It will work better if the performers dial down their actions a notch or two in both cases. There is a difference between expressing anger and expressing rage.

The issue with the staging is related to the size of the performance space. Some scenes call for location changes that need to be straightforward to be fully appreciated in the story, and the set does not allow for those changes to be evident. A more critical issue with the set is that the audience is positioned on opposite sides of the stage. Since the actors are not wearing microphones, the dialogue is difficult to hear when they face away from one side.

Rebecca Lord-Surrat’s scenic design is primarily effective, given the venue’s size and its “Black Box” structure. It would not be possible to fully realize the settings described in the script in the space. The lighting and sound design by Eric Nightengale is effective in moving the action from point to point and using some lighting cues to add clarity to a given setting. Lisa Renee Jordan’s costume design works well in helping to define the characters, ranging from business dress to tradesman basic and casual “everyday” attire.

Herself (through April 20, 2024)

The Drilling Company

Gural Theatre at A.R.T/New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call: 212-877-0099 or visit http://www.drillingcompany.org

Running time: two hours and 10 minutes including an intermission

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About Scotty Bennett (76 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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