WEDDING BELL BLUES Schmidt, bottom, fears an arranged marriage.

WEDDING BELL BLUES Schmidt, bottom, fears an arranged marriage. Mat Brown

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Sometimes a long-neglected play comes to light that seems to have been with us all along. Set in a rural Irish location and paced with irresistible melodramatic momentum, John B. Keane’s 1959 potboiler Sive feels like the missing link between the hardscrabble folk dramas of O’Casey and Synge and the coruscating latter-day black comedies of McDonagh and McPherson.

In director Ciarán O’Reilly’s crackling New York premiere production, this story of a septuagenarian bachelor (Christopher Joseph Jones) who connives to win the hand, if not the heart, of the pretty teen orphan Sive (Wrenn Schmidt) unfolds with the Emerald Isle’s signature combination of hearthside grit and fablelike force. Keane’s focus is less on the frail geezer, who trembles with pathetic lust for Sive in his few appearances, than on the girl’s fierce aunt Mena (Fiana Toibin) and whipped uncle Mike (Aidan Redmond), who scheme with a deliciously seedy matchmaker (Patrick Fitzgerald) to sell off their niece. This craven trio gets just the bare minimum of sympathetic shadings as it squares off against not only the heartbreakingly quiescent Sive but her resentful grandmother (Terry Donnelly), a passionate suitor the girl’s own age (Mark Thornton) and a pair of roving bards (James Barry, Donie Carroll). The latter render the harsh verdict of the townspeople on the matchmaker: “May the snails devour his corpse.” That’s just one in Sive’s priceless litany of bitter insults, which would sound merely bitchy if they weren’t rooted deep in the Old Sod and excavated here with such care and conviction.

Irish Repertory Theatre (see Off Broadway). By John B. Keane. Dir. Ciarán O’Reilly. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.