Idle Muse stages the Midwest premiere of a less fearsome McPherson.
The Veil can sometimes seem like a lesser playwright than Conor McPherson attempting to emulate the work of the master. Sadly, though, it’s McPherson himself, just not living up to his usual standards. For a playwright who so often incorporates spirits and apparitions into his work, it’s almost fitting that The Veil feels like a shade—a pale, ghostly imitation of his usual genius.
The play is set in (where else) Ireland in 1822, on the estate of Lady Madeleine Lambroke (Alison Dornheggen), a downwardly-mobile widow. Lady Lambroke is set to marry her daughter Hannah (Ashley Crowe) off to a wealthy English lord, but the two guests she has recently received—her cousin, the Reverend Berkeley (Scott Olson), and the Reverend’s friend Mr. Charles Audelle (Nathan Pease)—have other plans for the girl. Hannah is famous for seeing and hearing spirits, especially the spirit of her father who hung himself in the very parlor room wherein the play takes place. As a pair of proto ghost hunters, Berkeley and Audelle (a posh dirtbag who seems to have emerged, fully formed, from a Decemberists song) are more interested in using Hannah to confirm their suspicions of the spirit realm. There are a number of side plots too, all of which fail to converge at the play’s climax and instead are ploddingly resolved in one scene after another. (This is called “Return of the King syndrome.”)
This production, directed by Ann Kreitman, treats the play as a fairly straightforward melodrama. There are some spooky touches, one of which, involving a mirror, will actually succeed in sending a chill or two up your spine. However, the actors’ spirited (sorry) renditions of the characters and the story often cut against the strength of McPherson’s writing: that soft, brooding melancholy that seeps out ever so slowly through the pores like a night of long, mournful boozing. Ironically, it’s the show’s energy and verve that end up leaving it listless. But it must be said, again, that McPherson doesn’t give the cast too much to work with. He provides a lot of play, yes—it’s a long two-and-a-half hours—but very little to play with.
Idle Muse Theatre Company at the Edge Theatre. By Conor McPherson. Directed by Ann Kreitman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.