The Clearing

April 14, 2019

in Plays

Play (1993)
by Helen Edmundson

Directed by Daniel Bourque

Hub Theatre Company of Boston
First Church in Boston
66 Marlborough Street, Boston, MA
Back Bay
April 5-20, 2019

With Matthew Zahnzinger (Robert Preston), Brashani Reece (Madeleine Preston), George Page (Solomon Winter), Robin Abrahams (Susaneh Winter), Jeff Gill (Sir Charles Sturman), John Vellante (Pierce Kinsellagh), Lily Steven (Killaine Farrell), Alexander Stravinski (Soldier, Sailor, etc)

The Clearing poster

A beautifully directed and acted play about Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century, when, in the wake of the English Revolution, Oliver Cromwell and the British wreaked havoc in Ireland.

Living in Ireland in the middle of the seventeenth century, Robert Preston (Mathew Zahnzinger), an Englishman, is married happily to Madeleine Preston (Brashani Reece), an Irishwoman. They have a child and appear to be nicely situated. Their friends Solomon Winter (George Page) and his wife Susaneh (Robin Abrahams), also English residents in Ireland, seem settled and happy as well. But things are afoot in England, where Oliver Cromwell has just led a revolution and prevailed against the crown. This throws the Irish situation into disarray, and the prospect of resettlements, deportations, and the like comes front and center. How this affects the Prestons, the Winters and their circle forms the core of this intense drama about lives turned topsy-turvy by sudden and unexpected manipulations of power.

Everything looks peachy-keen for Robert and Madeleine but things start to fall apart when it appears that the English are going to start shipping all sorts of people away. Some English will get reallocated, some Irish will be sent to prison camps and into indentured labor, and many will be dealt with in other harsh ways.

Sir Charles Sturman, played with effective ferocity by Jeff Gill, preys upon the Prestons and others and becomes a weathervane for the horrors that begin this several-years-long calamity that became known as the Irish Confederate Wars.

Edmundson’s play captures in vivid emotional outline the wrenching facts of such upheavals. Without taking on the larger subjects of political allegiances in too much detail, one gets from the script enough of a general sense of the battles between Royalists and Revolutionaries, Catholics and Protestants, and Irish and English, to draw the landscape in which these horrors occurred.

This production is excellent. Clearly the direction has been first-rate; all of the actors shine.

Matthew Zahnzinger’s Robert Preston is effectively gallant coming out of the gate, and develops significant dimension as time goes on. Brashani Reece’s Madeleine, as well, is exuberant at the outset, almost bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, while she too has much music to face and a deepening of the ancestral harmonies as things develop. George Page is quietly very effective as Solomon Winter, carrying the burdens of the world with great dignity and very persuasively. And Robin Abrahams, as Susaneh Winter, gets to state her case and to do her thing in full-throated harmony, particularly near the ending.

In the more supporting roles, Lily Steven, as Madeleine’s dear friend Killaine Farrell, is innocently heartbreaking, and Alexander Stravinski’s various roles on the opposite site of the emotional scale are equally effective. Jon Vellante’s rebel, Pierce Kinsellagh, is beautifully drawn in a few short scenes. And, as mentioned, as the really bad guy, Jeff Gill does a wonderfully effective job.

This is true, intimate theater at its best. The Hub Theatre also has, to its amazing credit, the policy of “pay what you can” for tickets. It’s a deal that’s hard to beat, and, especially so with this very fine production, only available for another week – so go out and grab it!

– BADMan

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