Last night we saw The House at the Abbey Theatre, the national theater of Ireland, founded by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in the 1920s. The play was by Tom Murphy, an Irish playwright whose works are frequently staged here, and it was amazing. We weren’t familiar with the plot, so we were totally blown away – by the script as much as by the brilliant acting and the really incredible set design.
The plot is about Irish emigration, and what happens to men and women who leave Ireland – they don’t belong in their hometowns anymore, but they don’t belong in the outside world either, and when they return home (as the characters do in this play, visiting their families and friends), they’re changed. It’s described as an indictment of emigration, and I have to agree – nothing ends well here, although at the beginning of the play, you’d be tempted to call it a romantic comedy.
The dialogue was beautifully written, reflecting local cadences and speech patterns, and really capturing the flow of conversations appropriate to where they take place – the pub, the home, the street. And here, it was as much about the silences, as what’s not being said or what’s simply understood, as about what’s actually spoken. I imagine it would take a while for actors to get the pacing of the speech down pat, but this cast had it, and it was lovely.
I think, though, I was most impressed by the set design! The first scene seemed very simple – a few platforms, a garden table and chairs – but during the scene change, things started moving by themselves, and I realized that what appeared so simple was actually a very complex dual rotating set. The two halves of the stage had circular rotating platforms in the floor, and the set pieces were built in halves on those two platforms – so they could rotate out and bring in an entire home, or a whole pub, or open up to create an inner and an outer room of a house. It’s almost impossible to describe in words; I’d have to draw a diagram of it. I can’t even imagine how it went together, because they built hallways and doors and back rooms on this as well! It’s the most intricate set I’ve ever seen – I’d say it was on par with the huge mechanized sets of a Broadway production like Wicked. Dublin theater is just plain amazing. They accomplish so much, and they do it like it’s no big deal at all. I kind of want to move here, just to be a season ticket holder to the Abbey.