Jane (Alexandria Casteele) is a beautiful young woman with nut-brown hair and the rosy cheeks of an Irish farm girl. She radiates goodness. She is home from college, but not just for the weekend. This time she is not going back.
In Lisa Tierney-Keogh‘s contemporary Irish play Four Last Things, Jane has fled Dublin in desperation. As much as she loves it there, as much as she knows that’s where she really belongs, she is unable to face life, she’s confused, and she’s sad. So she returns to what she knows. Home.
The West Coast premiere of Four Last Things opened February 1 at New Expressive Works in Portland. Produced by Corrib Theatre and directed by Gemma Whelan, Corrib’s founding Artistic Director, it is the story of a young woman caught in the web of mental illness with seemingly no way out.
Jane’s dad Brendan (Ted Rooney) watches Jane from a distance. He believes that the hard work and fresh air of the farm will help her “get over it”. He loves her more than anyone, but he can’t find the words to talk to her. He never learned them. And Jane lacks the words to talk to him. She never learned them. Her father couldn’t teach her what he doesn’t know.
Bob the farm dog (Jacklyn Maddux) was rescued by Jane when she was a puppy. She knows Jane inside out, and she smells the fear, the danger. The illness. She cleaves to Jane, but Bob is just a dog.
And so, the characters in the play share soliloquys because they lack the ability to talk to each other. The words are beautiful and poetic; the actors’ performances are nuanced and gripping as they beg someone to please just understand.
“In recent years, Ireland has made vast strides in women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and combating flagrant abuse by the church–but the stigma associated with mental illness still persists,” says director Whelan. “When I read Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s beautiful and sensitive play I was profoundly moved by the delicacy and power of the story. I found myself coming back to it again and again. As I came across reports of the rise in incidents of depression and suicide in the U.S since the 2016 election, and the staggering levels of depression and suicide among young people, college students, and the LQBTQIA community, I knew I needed to produce this play.
“Four Last Things is a story of the failure of the country, the state, the family, the community to face up to uncomfortable truths. It shows the inability or unwillingness of adults to move beyond fear, stasis and tradition, even when the stakes are life or death. I believe the play has as much resonance and urgency here in Portland, and the United States, as it does in Ireland. I hope that by telling this story we reaffirm that a tiny gesture, a shift in consciousness, a reaching out and finding the courage to move beyond our comfort zones could actually save lives.”
Special thanks to Samie Pfeifer, scenic designer; Summer Olsson, costume designer; Zach Ward, lighting designer; Andrew Bray, sound designer; and Amy Katrina Bryan, stage/production manager.
Four Last Things runs through February 24 at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont, Portland.
In addition, playwright Lisa Tierney-Keogh will be in Portland for a special event, Waking the Feminists – the movement that radicalized gender equity in Irish theatre on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.
A conversation with Lisa Tierney-Keogh; Dr. Jane Vogel, Founder and President, Advance Gender Equity in the Arts (AGE); Sarah Jane Hardy, Artistic Director, Northwest Children’s Theater & School; and Gemma Whelan, Founding Artistic Director, Corrib Theatre. WAKING THE FEMINISTS TICKETS: https://corribwakingthefeminists.brownpapertickets.com