It is not, truth be told, a visually splendid production; the set (by Vicki R. Davis) has a cheap look, which seems not to bode well. And, full disclosure, there is some dancing of a jig — part of the celebration of a midsummer festival, which is underway when Bairbre (Brenda Meaney) and Tom (Jesse Pennington) arrive at the thatched-roof farmhouse of his father, Martin (Con Horgan), where they plan to settle down.
What’s alluring here is the storytelling, by both Mac Liammóir and the actors, whose across-the-board restraint roots the characters in reality throughout. And if you know something about Mac Liammóir (1899-1978), Bairbre’s determination to remake herself takes on further resonance. Mac Liammóir, one of the founders of the Gate Theater in Dublin, was actually an Englishman named Alfred Willmore. An actor as well as a playwright, he reinvented himself so convincingly as an Irishman that his masquerade was only revealed, by biographers, a dozen years after his death.
Shame — Bairbre’s, for the life she led, and Martin’s, for the night he spent with her — is the force that drives this play, set in an isolated landscape where Roman Catholicism twines with pagan superstitions, and the supernatural is never far away.
In this part of the world, redemption is an unlikely outcome for a woman who abandoned sexual innocence without the blessing of the church. But Mac Liammóir has a striking sympathy for Bairbre, who sold her body as a way to survive.
“’Tis ones like yourself is the shame of the world,” her taciturn, menacing father-in-law says.
“A woman can’t sell nothing without there’s a call for it, don’t you believe it,” she replies.