Good to have you back, Solas Nua.
The U.S. premiere of Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Sky marks the welcome return to full theatrical production of Irish-focused arts group, now under the artistic direction of longtime company member Rex Daugherty. As befits a company that has not had a full-scale production in five years, Wild Sky seems like the product of a company in a rebuilding year getting creative with limited resources and relying on the generosity of their fans. This is a good thing. Stripped down, actor-centric, storytelling has always been a hallmark of Solas’s best work.
Turning into the skid of limited resources, Wild Sky is being staged in various private residences around the city, changing each week of the run. Adding a bit of mystery, the audience gets the location only after buying one of the extremely limited tickets. For the opening night performance I attended, the show was staged in an immaculate home near Dupont Circle. Upon entering the owner’s envy-inducing private gardens, the audience was invited to engage in a bit of pre-show educational immersion. In my case, I got a quick lesson in Irish dance, while in another corner of the garden another cast member held a lesson in Irish language. It’s a lot of fun.
The play proper tells the story of two star-crossed maybe lovers caught up in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, which presaged their full war for independence several years later. Dylan Morrison Myers and Megan Graves play Tom and Josie, respectively, two young Irish rebels of varying degrees of commitment to the cause. Most of the story is told through intertwining monologues that twist through time and various little tragedies and passions that drive Tom and Josie to rebel. Much of Wild Sky’s success is due to the casting of Myers and Graves, two of DC’s best emerging young stars. Originally written as a two person monologue, director Daugherty has elected to expand the cast to include a chorus of three (Beth Ammann, Daven Ralston, and Ashley Zielinksi) all of whom are able performers who twist and bound through an exceedingly tiny space with impressive precision.
And oh was that space tiny! The production proper takes place in a living room, with seats of various level of comfort crammed in, ranging from recliners to benches, all surrounding set designer Paige Hathaway’s lovely leaflet-lacquered platform which was clearly built to be easily transported between venues and is so small it could have a post-production life as a dining room table. Your mileage may vary, as the production continues its tour around the city.
At times Daugherty seems not to trust that his performers are enough to tell Kinahan’s story, electing for some theatrical accoutrement that tend to distract rather than enhance. For instance, Daugherty himself provides live drumming and foleying, but makes the mistake of placing himself on the opposite side of the room from the main playing space. This has the effect of distracting from particular actions, like say a gunshot or a punch, rather than punctuate or enhance them. The staging of the play is so extremely intimate (I doubt any audience member was more than three feet from the “stage”) that very little is needed in the way extra explication. It’s the kind of play where the actors are so close that you may end up with a fist or a rifle inches from your face. In that fun way.ezcol_1third]
closes May 15, 2016
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At times Wild Sky’s production design seems a bit too nice, antiseptic even at times, given the grimmyness of the war and love stories being told. Perhaps Daugherty and his team wanted to respect the immaculate space they were invited (with great generosity) to share so they held back on any production elements that could leave a smudge, but it costs Wild Sky a bit of potential rebellious edge. Still, it’s a welcome reboot and return to form for one of Washington’s most exciting and bold small companies.
Disclaimer: I have worked with and known Megan Graves for several years. I also previously worked with Solas Nua in a professional capacity, years ago. My review was not affected.
Wild Sky by Deirdre Kinahan. Director: Rex Daugherty. Featuring Megan Graves, Dylan Morris Meyers, Beth Ammann, Daven Ralston, and Ashley Zielinksi . Scenic Design: Paige Hathaway. Music Direction: Michael Winch and Aaron Bilden . Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows . Costume Design: Robert Croghan . Produced by Solas Nua . Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.