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THEATER REVIEW : 'Triumph' Gets to the Heart of Its Heroines

November 11, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

STUDIO CITY — "Two girls in silk kimonos, both/Beautiful, one a gazelle." That's how, in his poem in memory of Ire land's Gore-Booth sisters, William Butler Yeats described the protagonists in Victoria E. Thompson's intriguing drama, "The Triumph of Maeve."

This first production of the play, at Theatre East, paints a less chauvinistic picture of the sisters, the elder of whom married a Polish count and became the heroic Con Markievicz of the 1916 Irish uprising, and the younger of whom, Eva, was a suffragist and poet.

Thompson's play is a strong piece of writing as it deals out the emotional cards that dictate the shifting familial relationships of Constance (Con) and Eva. In addition, within the measure and weight of those relationships, Thompson etches the emotions and logic of both the centuries-old Irish hatred of the English and their rule, and the burgeoning power of the suffragist movement.

In spite of its emotional and political depth, however, the script, in its present form, is overly cinematic. Scenes such as one in which feminist Esther Roper explains the movement to Eva, and another in which Con and suffragist Cristabel Pankhurst lead a rally, do nothing to build the tension. The pamphleteering exposition they provide is found in the more satisfying body of personal development elsewhere. These are only two moments among several that feel more like docudrama than drama.

Director Elaine Welton Hill makes even the less successful moments work with bravura staging, but she and the play are best paired at the human heart of the story--in its relationships, not its news clips. There she and her exemplary cast suggest a richness of period and place, and the depth of detail is truthful and touching.

Playwright Thompson is powerful as Con, from her naively energetic youth to her hard and bitter maturity in an English prison. The transition is flawless, as is the simpler but more delicate metamorphosis of Nan McNamara's Eva from a state of emotional frustration to self-esteem. Eva's relationship with Esther Roper is given a subtlety and believability through the insightful performance of director Hill as Roper. The adoration and concern of Con's husband, Count Casimir Markievicz, are just as artfully drawn in George Clifton's characterization.

The incomparable supporting cast includes Eve Brenner's skyrocket of a Lady Gore-Booth, loving, crusty and wise; Peter Kaitlyn's silly, gormless brother-in-law, husband of the youngest Gore-Booth sister Mabel (Susan O'Sullivan); Maaren Edvard's cheerfully militant Pankhurst; John Hugo's steely brother Josslyn, and Hilary Kerrigan's solid, intelligent Maeve, Con's daughter.

Where and When

What: "The Triumph of Maeve."

Location: Theatre East, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (above Jerry's Famous Deli).

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends Dec. 4.

Price: $10.

Call: (818) 760-4160.

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