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Theatre: Curtain rises on a real class act

THIS arresting play, a theatrical debut for writer Emma Donoghue, chronicles the life and work of writer Maeve Brennan. Brennan was born in Ranelagh in 1917. She moved to New York when her father took on a diplomat role of Irish ambassador.

Unlike her father, she stayed on, working as a fashion copywriter for Harper's Bazaar before becoming a staff writer for The New Yorker.

She soon transformed her more frivolous musings in the Talk of the Town section of the magazine into searing short stories, for which she quickly made a name for herself. Her trademark style was to burrow into the seemingly trivial or inconsequential.

Her biggest enemy was not the apparent misogyny of the day (conveyed here as general ribbing rather than rigid opposition), but herself.

Donoghue portrays Brennan as a woman who agonises over a single word among thousands. She is never happy with her work. A colleague tells her that she "gnaws upon herself".

This is a portrait of the highs -- the glamorous parties and dry Martinis -- and lows -- the depression, paranoia -- of this remarkable woman's life.


Mad Men fans can look forward to a visual feast. That this era is so fashionable now may explain why this play sold out before opening night, but don't worry, the run has been extended.

The stage set conveys both the claustrophobia of the New York high-rises and the isolation of the city.

Catherine Walker, who plays Maeve, is hypnotic. She embodies the energy and eccentricity of Brennan and commands the stage at every moment.

Lorcan Cranitch's understated performance as editor of the The New Yorker, William Shawn, inspires sympathy.

The drama is interspersed by flashback sequences of a younger Maeve sitting in her Ranelagh kitchen with her fractious parents, which seems an unnecessary addition. Otherwise, director Annabelle Comyn has produced a tight ensemble piece.


Runs until October 20 at the Project Arts Centre