I came close to tears at the Watergate Theatre’s powerful and deeply moving production of Brian Friel’s 1966 play, The Loves Of Cass McGuire. This was this Kilkenny venue’s 39th in-house production, this time to celebrate Friel’s 80th Birthday and they assembled a quality cast under the sensitive direction of Geoffrey Rose, to tell a sad delusional story of Cass, a tired and tipsy woman, who spent over fifty years working in a catering place – a bar of sorts, a block from Skid Row, among downbeats, bums and washed up people. The sort of people who live in a bitter or beautiful haze of memory of what was, or what might have been.
In its way, back in the sixties, this was a fragile memory play, telling a story, mostly memory, to an audience whom Cass sees out there (most of the time). Characters want to halt the flow of memory and want to tell the story in a difference sequence and a different significance and this gives the work a fine theatrical style.
The loves referred to, are not love stories, but the love Cass had for people, her brother Harry and his wife and four children. She sent ten dollars home each week as well as presents and cards and did what the Yank, the emigrant, was expected to do. Cass believed all this external expression of love would be appreciated and she lived in the bubble of delusion for over fifty years and it sustained her – a glorious love of family back home.
The reality was much different and she wasn’t much thought about and when she came home, she was seen as a bawdy, loud, embarrassment and put into a home (not a workhouse, but on the site of a workhouse).
Time and again, there were sequences in this play that cut home and gave me personal feelings of guilt about family who have gone before me. Friel used Thomas Moore’s, Oft In The Stilly Night, as a powerful musical theme – the smiles, the tears of boyhood’s years, the words of love then spoken… sad memory brings the light of other days around me. Those sad memories of other days came home with me after this production.
Colette Browne was amazing as Cass and her shouts of bawdy joy and puzzled moments of stillness as she peered out into the audience and a banquet hall deserted, were memorable. Brendan Corcoran was splendid as the weak but well-meaning Harry. Marina Boyd s Trilbe and especially Tom O’Loughlin as Ingram were essential and excellent to the poetic mood of this play. Donal O’Brieen brought much needed laughter (if ironic and knowing) to the story as Pat Quinn. Sean Hackett and Paula Drohan brought the innocence and dreams of youth to this production.
In the course of writing this review, I remembered with affection a WDS production many years ago in the Theatre Royal, where Mairin Gilmartin was a potent Cass and (I think) the late Davy Condon was Ingram.