In a Fringe Festival which includes the high-amp extravagance of a Titus X or a Diamond Dead (Continued…), or the high-tension excellence of a 4:48 Psychosis or the mind-boggling brilliance of The Terrorism of Everyday Life, is there room for a few quiet stories, told by a lone actor on a bare stage equipped with nothing more than a table and a chair and a glass?
Damn straight there is, when the actor is Polly MacIntyre and the stories are carved and scoured with language like a cascade of diamonds. MacIntyre’s subject is the loneliness of women who guess wrong about men, and she gives us three such women – a virginal youngster the night she becomes the lover of a tongue-tied older man; a hard-edged, well-off married woman who decides to have a fling with a musician; and a woman who has lost her heart to a married man – there are two stories about her – and suffers a heartless fate.
It is not simply MacIntyre’s brogue which identifies the pieces as Irish. They radiate the sort of liquid cynicism which has marked the Irish literary voice from Swift through Frank McCourt. The protagonist tells her story from the point of view of love, and the opportunity for love, long past. Except in the first vignette, she is a woman past her prime, whose lovers are impecunious, unavailable, disinterested in sex, and never on time.
This could be depressing, but MacIntyre makes it sound rueful, wistful, and, with surprising frequency, funny. That’s in large part because she excerpts her content from the writing of the fine, if underappreciated, Irish writer Edna O’Brien (“The Country Girls”, “Wild Decembers”). I do not know what O’Brien would sound like reading her stories, but if she doesn’t sound like MacIntyre, I bet she wishes she did.
The thing that makes all this Irish sorrow and cynicism tolerable is that it is bottomed in a perverse optimism. It is not possible to laugh in the face of sadness if one is not anchored by unquenchable hope. The title for this piece comes from an old Irish country song (recently recorded by Sinéad O’Connor). The song is the lament of a man whose beloved promised to marry him – and then he never saw her again. “Last night she came to me,” he sings. “My dead love came in/So softly she came/That her feet made no din/As she laid her hand on me/And this she did say/It will not be long, love,/’Til our wedding day.”
At the conclusion of the show, MacIntyre takes a single red carnation and shoves it – with difficulty, in the show I saw – into a vase full of white carnations. Her protagonists – all three of them – may have had bad love a hundred times with a hundred bad men. The hundred and first time, surely, will work.
She Moved Through the Fair
Selected writings of Edna O’Brien
Performed by Polly MacIntyre
Reviewed by Tim Treanor