NY Theater Review By Michall Jeffers
From the very first line, we understand that Colm (Patrick Fitzgerald) is a man of the sea. He and his Irish neighbors live on the island of Cliffhorn Heads, at the very edge of the water; they fish to earn a living, and for the food that they eat; and no matter where they may go, or what they may do, the salt water in their veins will always call them home.
There’s a reason he and the other men of the village always wear sweaters with a distinct pattern, and Colm is rarely without his. Home life consists of sitting by the stone fireplace, drinking from a cup which has seen better days. It’s 1966, and while the world outside is bursting with new ideas, Colm might just as well be living in the dark ages. It’s a cold, lonely life; this is not a place where you court a woman unless you mean to marry her, and Colm has never courted. He is, he informs us, “A 45-year-old spinster.” But at a wedding on the island, Colm has seen a woman who sparks his interest, and he decides to write to her.
Timothea (Xanthe Elbrick), his intended, is a Welsh woman living in Liverpool, working for a book publisher. She’s immediately taken by Colm’s writing. He has the soul of a poet, and with his words, effortlessly creates vivid pictures of the life around him. They exchange missives until they contrive to meet, at yet another wedding. Timothea finds Colm pleasing; his shock of typically Irish thick white hair, and his obviously trim body attract her. She proposes that Colm come with her to Liverpool; they will stay together, an idea which both takes him aback and delights him. She’s not at all concerned by the news that he’s a virgin; he’s “unschooled,” but eager to begin their affair. Unbeknownst to him, Timothea has big plans for Colm’s future. But can this man of the sea ever be truly happy living in a dirty, noisy city?
Elbrick brings a combination of sweetness and determination to Timothea. She allows us to see the loneliness of her life, and also the glimmer that she may be on to something which will boost her status at the publishing house. Elbrick ably portrays her enthusiasm about the books she gets to read; this is a woman who knows the value of words on paper. There’s a distinct moment when Timothea decides that she’s going to seize the day with Colm; the story turns on the gleam that comes into Elbrick’s eyes.
Fitzgerald plays Colm with an intensity that overfills the theater. Particularly in the second act, a change in dynamics would have provided color and contrast. In such a small house, a little emoting goes a long way. But he does ably demonstrate his affection for Timothea; the characters share a genuine tenderness. It’s unclear whether Colm would be capable of adapting to his situation, and it would be far more interesting if his fate hadn’t been played as a foregone conclusion. There’s an emphasis on the juvenile side of his personality; this does wear thin.
Director Ciaran O’Reilly makes the most of the small stage by dividing it up into distinct areas. Colm’s hearth, Timothea’s apartment, and the churchyard all serve to move the story along. The script, by “Adventures In Paradise” star Gardner McKay, keeps the language rich and the action simple. The play works best when the characters read aloud the letters they’re exchanging. Their spiritual connection is greater than their physical need for each other, yet still not as compelling as Colm’s need for the sea.
The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, 212-727-2737; 1hour, 45minutes Thru June 15th, 2014