by Lynn on May 29, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Thom Marriott as Hector, Corrine Koslo as Constance

At the Courthouse Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Written by Lennox Robinson. Directed by Jackie Maxwell. Designed by William Schmuck. Lighting by Louise Guinand. Music by Solas. Starring: Donna Belleville, Julie Course, Mary Haney, Corrine Koslo, Peter Krantz, Thom Marriott, Craig Pike, Ric Reid.

Produced by the Shaw Festival.

This play is a gem. A love letter to the theatre. It’s the kind of theatrical archeological find that is typical of artistic director Jackie Maxwell’s tenure at the Shaw Festival. She digs into tomes of forgotten playwrights and consistently finds gems like Drama at Inish.

It’s the early 1930s in the small seaside town of Inish in Southern Ireland, in the private sitting room of the Seaside Hotel. The leading folks of the town have engaged the De La Mare Repertory Company to perform a summer season of serious dramas by Ibsen, Chekhov and Tolstoy. The town seemed to be tired of the comedies they watched summer after summer, and this new company would be a change of pace.

The co-actor-managers of the company are Hector de la Mare, an imposing, hugely theatrical man and Constance Constantia his diminutive, but no less theatrical wife. He never met a cape that he couldn’t unfurl with panache and she never met a wrap-coat she couldn’t unwrap with equal élan. This theatrical couple was born to wear sunglasses for effect.

They set up residence in this little hotel owned by John and Annie Twohig, where they begin to charm and disarm the locals who attend their performances faithfully.

Then something strange happens. The townsfolk begin to take these serious plays to heart. One sees a Chekhov play and throws himself off the pier. He does not drown but he is really wet. Another sees an Ibsen play and his conscience takes the play’s moral theme to heart to act accordingly, with disastrous political results.

The goings on in Inish are reported in the papers in Dublin. Something must be done and the townsfolk do it with the same serious hilarity they do everything else.

Playwright, Lennox Robinson (1886-1958) ran the Abbey Theatre with W.B. Yeats from 1918. Robinson also kept up his playwriting. Drama at Inish was written in 1933. One of Hector de la Mare’s wonderful lines in the play is: “It bears out what I have always said: give people the right stuff, well put on and intelligently acted, and they will support it!” Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell has taken that to heart as well. She says in her program note: “Here is a play that both pokes fun at the pretensions of theatre people and yet embraces their cause. It shows that art can indeed affect people and yet be rejected for that very reason.”

Jackie Maxwell has directed this production and takes this wonderful gem of a play and polishes it to a bright shine. The humour in the production comes organically from the lines—there is nothing cheesy or gratuitous. It’s obvious Hector is grand and full of affectation. When he prepares to sit on the comfortable settee, Thom Marriott, who plays him beautifully, flips out his cape like a pair of wings, flops down and crosses his legs to finish the affect. Just after that Lizzie Twohig (sister of the owner), played by Mary Haney, reacts with a start to this flourish and slightly recoils into the opposite corner of the settee. Brilliant.

As Hector, Thom Marriott is grandly tall, with a deep baritone voice and a penchant for slicking back his perfectly slicked hair (a great wig it is). His manners are over the top and perfect. His sense of Hector’s melodramatic ways add to the sweet fun of the character.

As Constance, Corrine Koslo matches Marriott’s grandness with business of her own. Constance is the more serious, more demanding of the two. She plays Constance’s feigned sensitivity and insecurity with relish. As Lizzie, Mary Haney twitters and skitters around the set with an air of over-worked stress, when if fact she is too confused to know what’s going on. As John Twohig, the hotel owner, Ric Reid is cheerful and blustery at the same time. The whole cast in fact is stellar and so right in getting under the skins of these charming, disarming characters.

Every part of this production under Jackie Maxwell’s watchful, impish eye—from the design by William Schmuck to the lighting by Louise Guinand, even to the contemporary, lilting Irish music by Solas–all go to make Drama at Inish an exquisite production that should not be missed.

Drama at Inish continues at the Courthouse Theatre until October 1, 2011.

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1 Tandy Cronyn June 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm

It seems Drama at Inish by Lennox Robinson has an alternate title: Is Life Worth Living? According to notes on The Shaw Festival’s website, The Abbey Theatre in Dublin first produced the play in 1933 as Drama at Inish, but the subsequent London and Broadway productions used Is Life Worth Living? as the title. Also, the recent revival at the Mint Theater in New York City used the latter title.


2 Lynn Slotkin June 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Thank you Miss Tandy. Astute and informative as always. If anybody would know about this stuff, it would be you.