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A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Strandline” Review – Challenging to American Ears

By Amy Munice

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“Strandline” is one of the many highly acclaimed plays from England, Ireland or Scotland that come to Chicago’s stages each year.  Our actors may go to great lengths to master the accents, but oftentimes audience members have relatively tin ears.



That’s certainly the case with A Red Orchid Theatre’s “Strandline”, where the Irish accents of  this top notch cast, and memorably also including child actor John Francis Babbo playing Sweeney, seemed without flaw.  But if your ears aren’t tuned to such accents you will likely find yourself playing catch up to the script lines.  The program provides a brief glossary that helps a smidge, but not much more.  Some audience members were outright dozing, perhaps because their lag time catching the drift of the lingo was too long to hold their attention.  If you have trouble getting past this type of accent block this is absolutely not your play.



That said, even if you are having that translation lag time in your brain, it’s the excellence of the acting talent that helps convey the emotional content of the play non-verbally that probably moves the audience along.   The set design (Harry Feiner) is also outstanding.


The story is set in a town on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Island.  As soon as the action begins all the characters of the cast are on the shore watching a man drown.  That man is father to a bride in the midst of her marriage (Meg Warner as Triona) and husband to the relatively well-heeled artist Mairin (Kirsten Fitzgerald) in whose home the rest of the play takes place.  Two other townspeople are there—Clodagh (Dado), who is a real-estate maven of sorts and Eileen (Natalie West), wife of a long-time unemployed man in town.  Young Sweeney also arrives, planting the idea early on that he is someone who sees a lot of what goes down in the town.



The widow invites the other women, each of whom she has had either a troubled relationship with or none of apparent import, to help her get through the night.  With lots of whisky paving the way, what ensues is a peeling away at that onion to find truth.  Yes, there are issues of the late man’s fidelity to his wife, but it doesn’t stop there.  



The young Sweeney wanders in to the morning after this drunken wake, and that’s when the final layer of the onion of truth gets peeled away making you almost gasp at what’s below.



While all of the actors are standouts Kirsten Fitzgerald as the widow is the riveting window to the action.   She has been the outsider in town and she has essentially invited the town and her estranged step-daughter into her world without knowing truly what company she will be keeping.   Fitzgerald’s expressions and subtle gestures as she takes in the revelations of truth unfolding are riveting to behold.


This story, a Chicago world premiere of a play by Abbie Spallen and directed by J.R. Sullivan, is an interesting window on how “the troubles” had morphed in the Celtic Tiger.  If you navigate Irish accents and lingo easily put Strandline on your short list of plays to see.


Now through December 7.


A Red Orchid Theatre

1531 North Wells Avenue, Chicago


For tickets call 312 943 8722 or visit A Red Orchid Theatre website.




Photos: Michael Brosilow







Published on Nov 02, 2014

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