Reed in the Wind
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
June 27, 2009
The initial story that serves as the foundation for Joe McDonald's Reed in the Wind has the potential to be riveting and original theatre. Unfortunately, the lasting impression that this current production leaves is just that: potential. Billed as an "unusual Irish love story," the author has offered up the bones for a unique play, grounded in varying degrees of love, violence, metamorphosis, and a quest for understanding. Yet by the time the excessive, and under-directed, scenes have come and gone, shrouding the earlier story with a less compelling subplot of religious intolerance, one is left wondering exactly what McDonald wants his audience to see.
The play revolves around Michael and Kate Nolan, a brother and sister orphaned and alone since the death of their parents by fire some 15 years earlier. Ostracized by a Catholic town that refused to support the children of a Protestant father and unwed mother, the two have learned to depend solely upon each other for their needs, the physical not excluded. And while never perfect, as I assume most brother/sister love affairs aren't, the Nolans have made it work, with Michael tending to the pigs and Kate getting his tea. However, recently something has changed, and as the play opens up, Kate confesses to feelings of guilt over their affair, something Michael assures her has no place in a house long ago forgotten by both the Church and its God. Michael is more controlling husband than watchful big brother, and one of the more interesting developments of this story is watching Kate as she attempts to break free of a life she now desires to leave behind.
This growing division between the siblings, which defines the first part of the play, is multiplied when Michael, injured and preparing for surgery, hires the handsome farmhand Peter, who quickly falls for Kate. With Peter's entrance, the love triangle that is presumably supposed to sustain the rest of the play is complete. I say supposed to sustain the play, because unfortunately, this is not what happens. As Michael leaves to receive the answer to his nagging leg pain, the interesting story of Peter and Kate is interrupted by another misfortune. This new difficulty comes at the hands of a local priest, who seems hell-bent on ruining the lives of anyone nearby. He is your typical Tartuffe-like priest, hypocritical with one hand and lecherous with the other. Interesting as that is, he unfortunately has no real place in this story. Yes, the growing judgment of the town towards the Nolans helps to move along the action, but only at the cost of distracting from the bizarre, and compelling, love story McDonald began his play with.
While the story may wander, and the quick scenes may prove distracting, there are still two very good reasons to see this production: Nic Tyler (Michael) and Douglas B. Giorgis (Peter). From the moment Tyler walks onto the tiny stage, one is confronted with an actor of enormous presence, which never explodes into something untrue as his character struggles to maintain the life he has become content with. Giorgis is equally compelling, playing the gentler, though never pushed-over, assistant Peter. The dynamic created by these two rivals becomes incredibly thrilling to watch, even if it is constantly being interrupted by short scenes and less-focused side stories.
In a production like this, that features original storytelling and two especially strong performances, it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is to blame for the final product being so unfulfilling. Certainly part of the fault rests on the lack of direction given to these actors. The show features uninspired blocking, with far too many of the scenes lazily playing out as conversations over tea at the kitchen table. This lack of motion, combined with a script that never hits the emotional levels a boiling environment such as this should achieve, leads to a few moments of violence and high drama that are never truly earned. The story is there, and especially with the characters of Michael and Peter, the actors are there too. However, in its current incarnation at The Producers Club, Reed in the Wind remains a breeze, when it really should be a storm.