By Beatrice Williams-Rude
Brian Friel’s play, The Home Place, looks at what constitutes home—to the heart.
The wealthy landowner, Christopher Gore, a kindly man with good intentions, refers to his Irish estate as his home, yet yearns for a more ancient habitat in Kent. His hapless son, David, seeks to wander, seeing no location as permanent.
While, in 1878, when the play is set, the English overlords had occupied the land for several generations, the Irish locals, tenant farmers mostly, had had their roots in this soil for millennia. It is their home, absolutely, no doubts, no hungering for elsewhere.They regard the English as colonizers, as transients.
The lovely chatelaine of the Gore estate, The Ledge, is Margaret O’Donnell, capable, organized, tender and all-knowing. Small wonder that both father and son are not only in love with her, but propose marriage even though it would mean “marrying down.”
The routine of the household is upended when Dr. Richard Gore, a cousin arrives with his assistant, Perkins. Their purpose is to measure the locals, particularly their heads. They call it anthropology but we’d see it mostly as phrenology. To Dr. Gore and Perkins, the native population serves as a laboratory and each individual a specimen. A call has gone out for volunteers to be examined and it is not lost on the locals that they are regarded as a lesser species. (In 1878 when The Land League, led by Charles Stewart Parnell and John Dillon, was being created, there was much agitation for reforms to the onerous land laws.)
The smoldering resentment can be seen in the demeanor of Con Doherty (Johnny Hopkins) and Johnny McLoone (Gordon Tashjian). While heated words come to be exchanged, the long suppressed anger is apparent well before.
John Windsor-Cunningham presents a touching, nuanced portrayal of Christopher Gore, the conflicted Anglo-Irish gentleman who finally lets his conscience speak as he orders Dr. Gore and Perkins to leave.
Dr. Gore, meticulously performed by Christopher Randolph, and Perkins, the perfect foil as the hard-pressed assistant, played by Stephen Pilkington, provide the hilarity. The perfect comic timing of their exchanges must be credited to the brilliant director, Charlotte Moore.
Rachel Pickup is the graceful, merciful, elegant lady of The Lodge, needing no title to validate her status. The much put-upon David Gore, played by Ed Malone, has been so ground down he cannot believe that Margaret loves him—which she says she does on several occasions, although we are left wondering what went on between Margaret and Con Doherty earlier.
Margaret’s drunken schoolmaster father—who does wonders with music and a choir—is raffishly portrayed by Robert Langdon Lloyd. Andrea Lynn Green is charming as Sally Cavanagh. Mary Sweeney, well played by Polly McKie, and Tommy Boyle, portrayed by an appealing Logan Riley Bruner, are two of the “specimens” Dr. Gore wants to study.
Set design is by James Noone; costumes by David Toser; lighting by Michael Gottlieb—all fitting and well executed. Original music is by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab.
Brian Friel has been called “the Irish Chekhov” and this play demonstrates how appropriate the appellation is.
The Irish Rep is so warm and welcoming, theater-goers may well find it their own “Home Place.”
Photos: Carol Rosegg
The Home Place opened on Oct. 10 and will play through Nov. 19. Running time is an hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
The Irish Repertory Theatre is at 132 West Twenty-Second Street in Manhattan.