By Susan Hasho
Transport is a new musical with book by Thomas Keneally, music and lyrics by Larry Kirwan and direction by Tony Walton. The whole team involved in this production comes with an abundance of experience and achievement; and the story concerns a piece of Irish/English history that is compelling and dramatic. It centers on the deportation of 4,000 Irish women taken from Cork to Sydney, Australia in the 1830s and 40s for small or even nonexistent crimes in order to mate with the criminals sentenced to prison in Australia. Tony Walton, as the director, brings great talent and experience to the play; not only as director but is also responsible for the stunning and effective scenic design.
The action takes place on the ship The Whisper in 1838. The set design creates a moody blue-black suggestion of a deck and below deck where the women are held, with the quarter deck above, and the Doctor’s and the Rebel Priest’s Quarters nearby. There is a screen projection behind the illusory ship that is constantly changing and beautiful, and contributes brilliantly to the action.
The music comprises a large part of the show and the script is sparse. The music and lyrics bear much of the brunt of the exposition and dramatic elements; so the fact that the music is prosaic and arranged without imagination is a big problem here. Also, the individual events on the ship— the rebellion, the romance, the punishment, the priest, the captain doomed to head a prison ship of women—are all introduced one by one like bullet points. We are moved from one event to another without much inner landscape or dramatic variation. Tony Walton does a good job of seamlessly changing the scenes and overseeing what is a graceful movement of the actors; but it doesn’t compensate for the lack of dramatic variation in the script.
The actors, as an ensemble, are all surefooted and game for the journey; and Patrick Cummings as Hennessey and Mark Coffin as Captain Winton are both particularly good.
The cast of TRANSPORT also includes Terry Donnelly (Irish Rep’s Juno and the Paycock), Sean Gormley (Irish Rep’s The Weir), Jessica Grové (A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park With George, Thoroughly Modern Millie), Pearl Rhein (Red Bull’s Volpone), Emily Skeggs (The Public’s Fun Home), and Edward Watts (Scandalous, Encore’s It’s a Bird … Plane … Superman).
This production is produced with obvious enthusiasm and care. However, I would like to be able to see it improved.
At the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage of the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 W. 22nd St.) Opened Sunday, February 16th, 2014 at 7PM – Limited Engagement through Sunday, April 6th, 2014. Visit – www.irishrep.org