By Joseph Hurley
THY WILL BE DONE, by Michael Carey. Directed by Mary Kirrane. Featuring Michael Carey, Des Carey, Frank Fahey and Winifred Joyce. At Pearl River High School, Pearl River, N.Y.
The setting, uncredited in the program, places its stove to the left, its table dead center, and its doorway in the back wall, just as was the case with Martin McDonagh’s plays, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and "The Lonesome West," both seen on Broadway in recent months.
The play at hand, however, despite being set in a cottage in the west of Ireland, is another animal entirely. It is Michael Carey’s "Thy Will Be Done," which stopped for two performances at Pearl River High School, in Rockland County, as part of a five-city tour on the part of the Headford Theater Group based in County Galway.
The current tour, the fifth the group has undertaken in the last decade, wound up July 24 with a single performance at Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center, after which playwright Carey, who plays the lead in the play, returned to his day job as headmaster of the Headford Boys’ School, 24 miles from Galway City.
"Thy Will Be Done" is a shameless crowd pleaser, eliciting whoops and shouts and emphatic cries from the heavily Irish audience that gathered in the high school auditorium on a scorching summer night for the first of the play’s two Rockland shows.
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"Ah, give him a hug, Bridie," one female audience member called out at a crucial moment in a scene in which lonely old Jack Griffin, the character played by the playwright, comes as close as his closed-off personality will allow to expressing affection for the home aide who is the sole female in the four-character play.
At issue in "Thy Will Be Done" is a 40-year enmity that has curdled the relationship between Jack and Peter Griffin, the latter played by the playwright’s own real life sibling, Des Carey.
The fourth character, Martin Griffin, lustily played by Frank Fahey, a former physical education teacher who now runs walking tours in Ireland, is torn between his loyalty to his father and his affection for his alienated uncle.
But it is bossy old Bridie Lavin, running interference between the warring brothers, and trying to welcome Martin, recently returned to Ireland after a long stay in New York, who is clearly the audience favorite, as written by Carey and particularly as played, shamelessly and skillfully, by the youthful Winifred Joyce.
As directed by Mary Kirrane, "Thy will Be Done" is a play that knows its audience to its bootsoles, and gives it, in abundance, what it wants to see and hear. Bridie, arriving at the Griffin cottage for a day of work as a home aide, brings a plaster statuette of the Blessed Virgin in her tote bag, giving it a place of honor on a shelf above the stove, and then packing it up each time she leaves, always to the utter delight of the audience.
Manipulative and somewhat simplistic, "Thy Will Be Done" is nevertheless not without its virtues in terms of its writing and construction. If Bridie Lavin is a crowd-pleasing confection, threatening to go wholly over the top at any given moment, crusty old Jack Griffin is a well-observed and skillfully created character, as is young Martin, and, as far as the limited stage time allotted him allows, the same can be said for the somewhat rigidly conceived Peter.
Like the McDonagh plays, "Thy Will Be Done" sports a setting replete with instantly recognizable product brand names, ranging from Ready Brek to Calgon, not to mention the bottle of Paddy’s, which takes center stage when John and Martin launch into the play’s final confrontation scene.
Michael Carey is quick to say that Headford Theater Group is an amateur organization, forgetting for the moment, perhaps, that the word has its roots in the same Latin word that gives us the verb "to love."
Truth to tell, although the actors of the Headford Theater Group could be accused, with some justification, of playing to their audience more than might be absolutely necessary, their work, at its best, is as honest and as energetic as a great deal of performing you could find on Broadway any night of the week.
And there’s something to be said for pleasing an audience, any audience, as thoroughly and as intensely as Carey and his colleagues thrilled the people who gathered in the Pearl River H.S. auditorium.
What Broadway audience would worry out loud, with the play going on a few feet away, about the welfare of performers having to wear heavy woolen costumes on such a scorching night?