How It’s New York: Eilin O’Dea brings her one-woman show Madame Cassandra to New York’s American Irish Historical Society this Thursday, March 22nd. No stranger to the New York stage, Eilin has performed previously at Symphony Space as part of Selected Shorts, Bloomsday on Broadway, and a one-woman show, Hello, Molly!, her performance of the complete “Penelope” episode from James Joyce’s Ulysses.
How It’s Irish: Think of it as a highly combustible meeting of three brilliant Irish furies: the actress Eilin O’Dea, the writer Edna O’Brien, and Millie, the complex and troubled character at the center of “Madame Cassandra.”
Therese Cox talks to Eilin O’Dea about Madame Cassandra, a short play based on a short story by Edna O’Brien: “
“I think every woman empathises with her huge fear of rejection.”
Fresh from a standing-ovation performance of Molly Bloom at the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, Irish actress Eilin O’Dea comes to New York’s American Irish Historical Society this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. to perform “Madame Cassandra,” an adaptation of the Edna O’Brien short story from the story collection Saints and Sinners.
Working with the raw tools of Edna O’Brien’s beautifully crafted short story — narrated in a voice that is by turns embittered, nostalgic, and barbed with dark humor — Eilin plays the role of Millie, a woman who is, as Eilin describes it, “on a knife edge” as she waits to see a fortune teller.
Eilin first brought O’Brien’s deftly rendered story to life at a sold-out Selected Shorts at Symphony Space last year — a reading novelist and theatre critic Belinda McKeon called “staggering.” With this performance at the AIHS, Eilin pushes “Madame Cassandra” to its full dramatic potential in a fiercely embodied one-woman show.
Whether in role as Molly Bloom or as Edna O’Brien’s Millie, Eilin demonstrates a uncanny gift for taking the rambling monologues of strong female characters and finding the interior logic in the constant stream of thought, desire, and chatter. With a plaintive, expressive delivery, she perfectly captures the cadences of these characters’ emotional ebbs and flows and takes the audience on a journey as the narrator’s history slowly begins to unfold — or, in the case of “Madame Cassandra,” as it begins to unravel completely.
Last year on this site, Gwen Orel praised Eilin’s Selected Shorts reading of “Madame Cassandra”:
“O’Dea inhabited the role of Mr. Gentleman’s wife, Millie desperately trying to get a fortune teller to open her doors and tell her about her marriage. I can’t get out of my head how O’Dea read the lines of the woman encountering her own husband by chance on the train:
‘Where did we buy that hat?’ he asked.
‘We’ I said, lingering on the word, ‘we bought it in Paris on the Rue du Dragon one Christmas Eve, as it began to snow.'”
Earlier this week, I asked Eilin to share her thoughts on what drew her to the role and why she chose to expand the story of “Madame Cassandra” into a full one-woman show. Eilin responded:
“My attraction to [Millie] as a character is her raw pain hurt and anger which of course is tragically muddled up with her nostalgia for the past and memories of earlier happier times. I think every woman empathises with her huge fear of rejection which I think propels her forward as a character.”
When I asked her to reflect on the differences and similarities of her two most recent shows, Eilin added:
“Regarding Millie from “Madame Cassandra” and Molly Bloom; they are so different in almost every way Molly being earthy raw confident about her prowess as a woman and sensuality whereas Milly is an extremely uptight well bred lady whose confidence has been eaten away as a result of her husbands ongoing transgressions.”
Eilin O’Dea performs “Madame Cassandra” this Thursday, March 22nd at 7:00 p.m. at the American Irish Historical Society. The AIHS is located at 991 Fifth Avenue between 80th and 81st Street. This event is open to the public and is $10.00 for non-members. RSVP by March 21st