nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
June 17, 2009
Shining Days is a new play written and directed by Julie S. Halpern about an elite occult society known as The Golden Dawn that conspired in Victorian London. According to the program, Halpern is a Tarot consultant, and her fascination with the Tarot was the impetus for writing this play. Characters include notable members of this magic order, such as Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats; leading British actress Florence Farr Emery, who created many of George Bernard Shaw's heroines; theatre manager and designer Annie Horniman, who founded the Abbey Theater in Ireland; Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne Mac Bride, who served as a life-long muse to Yeats; father of the movement S.D. Macgregor Mathers; and his wife Moina.
While the concept for Shining Days is attractive, considering how celebrated some of these characters are in history and how surprisingly popular this magical order was in 19th century London, the rendering of this play is a disappointment. Michael Skitberg is unconvincing as the womanizing Yeats, and his performance at times falls flat. Credit is due to the full-fledged commitment displayed by the other actors, but the convoluted plot and elementary directing style prove problematic. With a number of unnecessary and prolonged blackouts between scenes, many of which end abruptly for dramatic effect, the audience is left restlessly waiting for the action to continue as the actors shuffle backstage. Patricia Duran's solid performance as Florence Farr Emery is redeeming, as is Sarah Koestner's performance as Maud Gonne, though Koestner's quivering lip and Jenne Vath's bleary eyes—she plays Moina—become tiresome because the style of this play doesn't seem to warrant such desperate emotion; Halpern might have had better success lightening up the drama.
Nonetheless, Shining Days is screaming with potential. With topics such as the founding of the historical Abbey Theater and Yeats's covert love affairs, Halpern has gathered priceless material for a play. And while watching these literary and historical figures engage in peculiar supernatural behavior is amusing, we are forced to take it so seriously that there isn't room to comment on the incredulousness of it all.