The Holy Ground
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
September 15, 2010
In its U.S. premiere as part of the 1st Irish Festival, The Holy Ground is familiar ground for anyone who has seen the work of playwright Dermot Bolger. Ireland, football (soccer), memory, and relationships are explored with Bolger's habitual fine balance of tragedy and humor. Bolstered by a light directorial touch and a consummate performance, this is a compact and touching one-woman play.
We are introduced to Monica, a widow in her twilight years, stuffing her late husband's belongings into plastic trash bags in her shabby living room. Katherine O'Sullivan's rhythmic, lilting voice guides us back and forth through the years as the protagonist recounts her life with her husband, Myles. She slowly illustrates how a shy, loving boy grew into a religious tyrant due to their inability to conceive, and how this left her an emotional cripple unsure of how to carry on her life after the end of his. Bolger's customary serpentine style ensures the narrative's shattering emotional crescendo steals upon you when you're not looking, making the impact stronger. O'Sullivan's vivid portrayal of a young, naive woman cowed by disappointments and a need for companionship is so touching that the desperate ends she is driven to provoke only sympathy.
Jorge Dieppa's set design is a work of careful consideration, with Myles's armchair, draped with religious postcards, as a focal point. For most of the play, the chair is turned away from the audience—a portrait of a distant, enigmatic man that neither the audience nor Monica knows. Joe Novak's muted lighting is perfectly timed to the emotional cadence of the story and director Don Creedon wisely allows the script and performer to do the heavy lifting.
The title The Holy Ground is an ironic reference to the town of Cobh, County, which was once a red-light in Ireland. Similarly, Myles becomes an angry man who denounces divorce and upholds children when his own marriage is bitter and childless. The only witness to these subtle ironies is Monica, and with deft pathos, she paints a picture that is well worth viewing.