The Watergate Theatre in Kilkenny has premiered the last four plays of Willie Egan and last week opened the latest, The Good to Suffer, to standing ovations.
The subject matter is highly moral and heavily loaded in a forties style like a Francois Mauriac novel, but his approach to the content is as moral and weighty as the ideas explored by Marina Carr and he does use a somewhat classical style to unfold his story. Taking on such strong content in the framework of two hours, means you have to get some contrivance and perhaps too much moral content. But an excellent cast with top class performance brings this production to some hard hitting confrontations.
The story opens on a split stage which allows the audience to see that sometimes decisions we selfishly take are made redundant by actual circumstances. While at other times it causes us to learn the same facts almost three times over.
The Donaghy family are gathered while their father lies dying offstage. The past rears its ugly head and family secrets, hurts and emotional as well as sexual abuse are exposed. The mother seems scatty but has accepted a loveless marriage in the name of family values. The crazy Jane daughter is a typical wise fooleen too often used in literature and she has a diary of secrets too. The son is wracked by guilt and amorality, rarely returning home and far more interested in multi-national deals. The other daughter is a cold-hearted, business woman exiled in London but full of hatred for her family.
The author uses a theatrical device of an additional character Sam, who represents conscience and is a device too far despite Eugene O’Meara’s fine acting skills.
The father dies and a few sentences later the daughter from London is signing mother and other daughter into a psychiatric unit, once a mental hospital. This unbalances the play but the performances impress so much.
Marina Boyd was excellent as the troubled mother. Paula Drohan alternated between over-acting and fine underplaying. Mary O’Brien was wonderful as the bitter daughter and she roped into people’s feelings.
Brendan Corcoran was splendid as the spineless self-serving son.
The title is a biblical reference to the providence of God which on earth often permits the good to suffer and the wicked to prosper. Which is still a relevant moral tale.