Tuesday 23 January 2018

Theatre: Steve Blount the main attraction in Lavin adaptation

Happiness, Bewleys Cafe Theatre, Dublin

Steve Blount in an adaptation of Mary Lavin's short story 'Happiness'
Steve Blount in an adaptation of Mary Lavin's short story 'Happiness'

John McKeown

"It takes an effort to roll the stone away from the tomb," says Vera, the dominant character in 'Happiness', the first of two stories by Mary Lavin adapted for the stage by Deirdre Kinahan. Vera's referring to the effort she believes people, and particularly her children, should make to achieve happiness. This hyperactive middle-class lady, brought forcefully to life by Claire Barrett, has a lot to say on the subject.

But Kinahan's adaptation is so compressed that much of it flies by without taking root. She does preach by example and Barrett brings this out with her usual tactile flair, particularly the moment when Vera's accosted by a sour-faced nun when she's about to scatter her husband's hospital bed with daffodils.

Barrett's energetic portraiture also takes in Vera's worried children, who stake out a French beach where Vera goes night-swimming after her husband's death, and follow her along the cliffs, afraid she'll collapse under her grief. Like Father Hugh, played by Mike Sheehan, they have little faith in her natural aptitude for happiness, or her belief that happiness can coexist with sorrow, and her chief lesson that happiness is an art falls on deaf ears.

One sure way to achieve some degree of happiness is surely forgetfulness but the farmer in Kinahan's second adaptation, who appears to have forgotten the untimely death of his first wife doesn't seem particularly happy, and is less so when a recently bereaved woman forces him to relive the event. The widow wants him to cut the grass in her pasture, but it was here that he courted his first wife, who, "mad with love" insisted on helping him milk the cows the morning after giving birth. Rather ludicrously she pedalled up and down the hills – presumably in pursuit of the heifers – until she fatally ruptured an inner tube.

The main attraction of this country tale, larded with portentous rustic maxims such as "when the tree falls, how can the shadow stand?" is Steve Blount's performance as the ponderously quiet farmer, unexpectedly aroused by Claire Barrett's widow in her nightie. He only touches her once on the arm and is then wracked with guilt, a feeling which, in his strong and simple nature, has a biblical, dangerous intensity.

Padraic McIntyre's production deftly coordinates Kinahan's interwoven narratives, and, in this regard, the first piece is more attractive. But the second has a looser, freer structure and when Blount stands in the widow's house in the middle of the fields at night, slowly unburdening himself, more dramatic depth.

Irish Independent

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