Category: Archive

Dysfunction in Minnesota

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

On the shelves of a sideboard in the living room portion of the set stand a framed photograph of John F. Kennedy, a painted plate in the shape of a shamrock and a little collection of small ceramic figurines, including the Blessed Virgin Mary and an image of Christ on the cross.
One of the serio-comedy?s first lines indicates the taste level of the characters and perhaps their socio-economic standing, as well. Regarding his sister, Rose, seated at the kitchen table with a glass of wine in her hand, brother Seamus Cummins asks: ?Are you going to finish the whole box?? Wine-in-a-box is a fairly palpable clue.
At the same time, the snowy rain beating against the kitchen windows, combined with a pair of heavy work boots standing alongside the door, contains at least a subtle suggestion of the story?s geographical setting, which soon enough is revealed as being Minnesota.
Seamus, who prefers to be called James, is living in an indelicate balance with Rose and another sister, Ruby, who comes across as being a precocious 12, although she describes herself as an underdeveloped 21 ? her development retarded by the ?circumstances.?
Put simply, ?St. Scarlet,? a title referring to a name assigned to Rose, is a thudding example of a dramatic genre that might best be described as ?trailer park gothic.?
As soon as the familial conflict poisoning the air of this modest but tidy dwelling is firmly established, Brother Seamus, who lives elsewhere with his supposedly frigid wife, departs, leaving his sisters to fend for themselves as best they can.
Of course, there are, soon enough, sweeping automobile lights, announcing the arrival of an intruder, a highly-strung young man, Vinny, or perhaps Vinnie, Silverstein, since it?s spelled both ways in the program. At any rate, the newcomer, who may or may not be a stranger, or, by the same token, be a potential killer or rapist, or, just as easily, merely a jibbering lunatic.
He is, he says, a New Yorker, half-Italian and half-Jewish. He knows the sign of the cross, but he?s unfamiliar with the melody of ?Danny Boy? which one of the sisters describes as ?the favorite Irish sentimental song.?
The mother of the three siblings, referred to only as Mom, supposedly mortally ill in a room above, has actually expired, a fact known only to Ruby, who elects to keep the detail a secret from Rose and Seamus for approximately half of the play?s length.
When the truth finally emerges, Ruby and Vinny, in the near-darkness provided by lighting designer Josh Bradford, are spotted moving furniture and rearranging details around the set.
Are they actors doing double duty as stagehands? Not really, since it eventually turns out that they are moving things about, still in character, in an attempt to make the cottage pass muster as the site of the informal wake they plan to hold.
Indeed, when the lights come up on the play?s final scene, Mom, stiff as a board, her face turned away from the audience, is laid out on the kitchen table.
Both Ruby and Rose, meanwhile, are fascinated by Vinny, who turns out to be considerably less dangerous than at first seemed to be the case. Ruby, to whom he represents a certain potential for escape and adventure, is fixated, while Rose, who, it finally dawns, did know him in times past, is sentimentally reattached to the new arrival.
Seamus? position, for the most part, is one of combative hostility. The siblings, off and on, squabble over the petty legacy left to them by their mother, with particular emphasis placed upon a large mirror which, to the surprise of absolutely none, fails to make it to the final curtain.
Playwright Jordan?s dysfunctional Irish-American family, which, as directed by actor Chris Messina, who recently gave a good account of himself as the Centurian in ?Salome . . . the Reading,? seems even more ill-matched in the flesh than they are on paper, includes Michael Chernus as Seamus, the prettily graceful Rosemarie deWitt as Rose, and the gifted Susan O?Connor as the annoyingly chirpy Ruby.
The lean, swarthy Ivan Martin makes a convincing, although somewhat exhausting Vinny, an interloper whose precise motives never become wholly clear.
Julia Jordan, according to the program notes, received a masters of philosophy in creative writing from Trinity College Dublin and is a Juilliard playwrighting fellow. Further, ?St. Scarlet,? a production of WET, the Women?s Expressive Theater, is the first of four Jordan plays which will be produced in New York in the 2003-04 season.
And, by the way, the inert corpse takes a curtain call.

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