How It’s New York: There’s the partnership with C.A.C.H.E. at Casabe Houses in East Harlem, and that some of New York’s most accomplished artists will appear on panels after the show on the 12th, 17th and 19th, including Dramaturg Susan Jonas and Playwright Tanya Barfield. But more than that: many a New Yorker is from Elsewhere. A long delayed visit home is a very New York story.
How It’s Irish: Mothers and daughters are a perennial theme in much of Irish literature. As is homecoming and how home never leaves you. This company’s mission is to present new work by and about British and Irish women. Aedín herself is a Dubliner (her dad is Paddy Moloney from the Chieftains, fyi).
The show has been a while in development, and had an audience at each stage of the way. I saw an earlier version during the APAP festival in January, at the Irish-American Historical Society (and Aedín told me she had just been appointed a Director there). It has grown in impact and power since — and it was lovely then. It makes you want to rush home and hug your mom. Skype her or phone, if you can’t do that.
Hammond gives us an articulate, mischievous, sensitive character in Eve (she calls herself “Eva” because a European lover pronounced her name that way, and she prefers it). She comes home to Rush, Ireland, to look after an invalid mum, after 20 years away. She realizes quickly that her sister’s family has summoned her so that they can take a family holiday to Majorca (but as anyone who’s ever been a caretaker knows, a week’s holiday literally can be just what the doctor ordered). Her homecoming after so long away naturally causes her to reflect on her childhood, and her mother’s difficult, almost saintly life. Eva ran wild and left– the “chaste” in her name is a kind lie to her mum, that she wears with pride– but like the singer in “Katie” by Jimmy MacCarthy, despite her great escape, she never got away.
One-person shows are not my favorite thing, honestly. My favorites, like Daniel Beatty’s Through the Night or Linda Byrd Kilian’s Aaronville Dawning, usually make me forget it’s just one person thanks to artful storytelling or multiple characters played by one actor. But Eva the Chaste truly is a long, stream-of-conscious monologue (the show is 70 minutes long with no intermission). Yet I was riveted.
Eva, vulnerable in a pink cardy, finds Ireland both familiar and strage. Paris is landlocked, but “here you can’t tell the rain from the seaspray,” she notices. The mother who once was disapproving now has Parkinson’s. Her limbs move involuntarily. She can barely speak. And in caring for her, Eva heals her own heart. Mum had a tough life– a humped back and 10 children (Eva only knew of 7), hardworking and pious, whose only real pleasure was ice cream. Eva, in contrast, led a wild but also difficult life in Paris, that included some prostitution, a lesbian affair and an unwanted pregnancy. She miscarried at 18, after a man propositioned her to take care of it: “The baby, no fool, said ‘I’m outta here,'” she says. To keep her mother happy, she would tell her lies, at one point borrowing facts from the girl in the flat next to her, until the girl becomes a drug addict.
But despite a history of misunderstanding and rebellion, the tenderness Eva has for her ailing mother shows that more of the anger was on the surface than she realized. Eva does cuddle her, a woman who wasn’t much for hugging when well, and brushes her hair. And the observation that Mum’s belly is “where I’m from” has a shock of truth in it. Hammond is a dramatic poet in the tradition of Beckett and Joyce. After seeing the piece, it’s easy to see how Aedín’s Molly Bloom readings at Ulysses Pub inspired Hammond.
John Keating’s direction brings out some humor in Eva’s gentle mockery of herself and others, and best of all, is largely invisible. Melissa Shakun’s set, of hanging metal door and window frames, added to the play’s poetic atmosphere, as did Mark Parenti’s sound design, including seagulls. There was also some music from Kevin Conneff and Paddy Moloney, coutesy of the Chieftains. The play is not perfect– the ending felt both rushed and a little too easy, and there were a few times that I got lost in Eva’s digressions. But Eva the Chaste is haunting. And not to be missed. Bring your mom.
Eva the Chaste is presented by Fallen Angels Theatre, at the Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC, July 8 – 24. Tues, 7; Wed-Sat; 3; Sun. 3. Tickets (212) 239-6200 or telecharge.