British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s 2004 work, with its three adult female siblings, amiably alcoholic dad and wisely dotty (or dottily wise) grandmother all struggling to shake off stasis, leans consciously on Chekhov. But it’s set in modern-day Sligo, and it also owes a debt (or at least a slight nod of the head) to contemporary Irish plays like The Cripple of Inishmaan, Stones in His Pockets or Dancing at Lughnasa.
None of which is to say The Night Season can’t stand tall on its own, particularly in director Elly Green’s grounded, extraordinarily sensitive production for Strawdog Theatre Company. As the play opens, the three sisters—the eldest, Judith (Justine C. Turner); middle sibling Rose (Michaela Petro); and the baby, Maud (Stella Martin)—are sharing a single bedroom, as Rose has given hers up for an intriguing lodger. John (John Henry Roberts), a film actor from London, is on location to play Yeats in a biopic shot in the poet’s hometown, and he and Rose strike a quick connection.
But there are other concerns: the sisters’ grandmother, Lily (Janice O’Neill), has been given a short forecast by her doctors, though she’s the kind of spirited elder character whose willful independence, appetite for drink and bluntly bawdy declarations belie any failing health. In lesser hands, Lily could be an off-putting stereotype—the manic pixie dream gran.
Yet Strawdog’s production is steeped in warmth and honesty, even—perhaps especially—in the moments when Lenkiewicz’s script leans mawkish. Green’s staging is crisp and precise, with Mike Mroch’s economical, in-the-round set design allowing scenes to subtly overlap and transitions to occur seamlessly. The seven-member cast, five of them members of Strawdog’s ensemble, make a fresh and forceful case for the value of that storied Chicago model. The existing connections among many of these actors—the interplay among Petro’s intensity, Turner’s vulnerability, Jamie Vann’s bullish buoyancy—underlines the sense of real familial truth in this highly affecting production. Here’s to more seasons to come.
Strawdog Theatre Company at Factory Theater. By Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Directed by Elly Green. With Stella Martin, Janice O’Neill, Michaela Petro, Michael Reyes, John Henry Roberts, Justine C. Turner, Jamie Vann. Running time: 2hrs 45mins; one intermission.