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ISSUE 121 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/30/2007

Guthrie shows US premiere of 'The Home Place'

By Margaret Wade
Arts Editor


Friday, November 30, 2007

"The Home Place," which recently made its American premiere at the Guthrie, presents Brian Friel's latest work on Anglo-Irish history and the struggles of alienated identity.

Friel's play, directed by Joe Dowling, ran from Sept. 22 to Nov. 25 in the McGuire Proscenium Stage in Minneapolis.

"The Home Place" takes place in one afternoon in August of 1878 with continuous action, but a couple of hours pass between Act 2's first and second scenes. The entire play utilizes a single set, but its density allows for multiple levels on stage. A diorama-esque box, complete with dense foliage and a gravel floor, represents The Lodge in Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland in the late 19th century. As the curtain reveals the masterful arboreal backdrop, the audience enters the world of The Lodge. This manor house provides an idyllic setting for widower Christopher Gore (Simon Jones), his son David (Michael Bakkensen) and their housekeeper Margaret O'Donnell (Sarah Agnew). An interesting love triangle develops between the three residents, with both father and son in love with Margaret. Agnew's superb performance subtly conveys the pathos of her position as an Irishwoman caught between two Englishmen. She serves tea to the gentlemen with a practical and reserved demeanor, but she hides an inner poignancy behind the red curls that flow elegantly against her face. All three residents dream of escaping the seemingly perfect life of The L"The Home Place," which recently made its American premiere at the Guthrie, presents Brian Friel's latest work on Anglo-Irish history and the struggles of alienated identity.

Friel's play, directed by Joe Dowling, ran from Sept. 22 to Nov. 25 in the McGuire Proscenium Stage in Minneapolis.

"The Home Place" takes place in one afternoon in August of 1878 with continuous action, but a couple of hours pass between Act 2's first and second scenes. The entire play utilizes a single set, but its density allows for multiple levels on stage. A diorama-esque box, complete with dense foliage and a gravel floor, represents The Lodge in Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland in the late 19th century. As the curtain reveals the masterful arboreal backdrop, the audience enters the world of The Lodge. This manor house provides an idyllic setting for widower Christopher Gore (Simon Jones), his son David (Michael Bakkensen) and their housekeeper Margaret O'Donnell (Sarah Agnew). An interesting love triangle develops between the three residents, with both father and son in love with Margaret. Agnew's superb performance subtly conveys the pathos of her position as an Irishwoman caught between two Englishmen. She serves tea to the gentlemen with a practical and reserved demeanor, but she hides an inner poignancy behind the red curls that flow elegantly against her face. All three residents dream of escaping the seemingly perfect life of The Lodge and leaving their history and heritage behind.

A confrontational visitor, Christopher's English cousin, Dr. Richard Gore (Richard Iglewski), throws their serene life out of balance. Fueled by ignorance, Iglewski embodies imperialism as he conducts scientific research on the Irish people to prove their inferiority. Jones plays Christopher as a well-meaning landlord, who feels the tension between his neighbors and his brother, but when Richard ignores the pleas of the starving village people, he awkwardly attempts to reconcile the damage.

In Act 1, Christopher attempts to explain his brother's research on eugenics: "Now what the anthropometrist does is make a detailed survey of the physical features of maybe a thousand people; and what emerges is a portrait of a distinctive ethnic group. And if we could only read that, it would tell us how intelligent that tribe is, how stupid, how cunning, how ambitious."

The practice of Victorian anthropometry, the pseudoscience of measuring heads to draw conclusions on racial lines, serves as a central motif of colonization. Richard treats the village people who volunteer for the study as specimens, manhandling them with disturbing allusions to a master/slave relationship. Mary Sweeney (Virginia Burke) sobs silently while Richard disregards her humanity and takes his measurements with aggressive authority.

"The Home Place" explores a period before the Irish independence of 1921, when the Anglo-Irish ruled the country and the English crown dominated all aspects of Irish life. By 1879 more than half of the land in Ireland was owned by fewer than a thousand landlords.

Friel illustrates the harsh class divide between the landlords in big houses and estates, through Christopher, and the dependent tenants, through the common villagers. Iglewski portrays Christopher in a benevolent light, allowing the audience to see him struggle in his position and his identity. This notion of homelessness links everyone together in The Lodge.

It is ironic that they have all their needs met in this big house, but they do not have a sense of place. Christopher and David feel burdened by their history, as they are not at home in England or Ireland. Margaret has left the familiar comfort of singing in her father's villager choir to live in The Lodge, but she is not at home in the village or manor.

Friel packs "The Home Place" with layers of complicated material, but he guides the audience with vivid images that advance the underlying ideas. The images are clear and the performance is flawless, but the plot falters at times and clings to a vague message.

"The Home Place" illustrates the fall of a culture and the complex class and racial conflicts of 19th century Ireland. Friel's work also has a broader focus because it conveys the timeless theme of homelessness, which may be applied to the human condition in many parallel contexts.

odge and leaving their history and heritage behind.

A confrontational visitor, Christopher's English cousin, Dr. Richard Gore (Richard Iglewski), throws their serene life out of balance. Fueled by ignorance, Iglewski embodies imperialism as he conducts scientific research on the Irish people to prove their inferiority. Jones plays Christopher as a well-meaning landlord, who feels the tension between his neighbors and his brother, but when Richard ignores the pleas of the starving village people, he awkwardly attempts to reconcile the damage.

In Act 1, Christopher attempts to explain his brother's research on eugenics: "Now what the anthropometrist does is make a detailed survey of the physical features of maybe a thousand people; and what emerges is a portrait of a distinctive ethnic group. And if we could only read that, it would tell us how intelligent that tribe is, how stupid, how cunning, how ambitious."

The practice of Victorian anthropometry, the pseudoscience of measuring heads to draw conclusions on racial lines, serves as a central motif of colonization. Richard treats the village people who volunteer for the study as specimens, manhandling them with disturbing allusions to a master/slave relationship. Mary Sweeney (Virginia Burke) sobs silently while Richard disregards her humanity and takes his measurements with aggressive authority.

"The Home Place" explores a period before the Irish independence of 1921, when the Anglo-Irish ruled the country and the English crown dominated all aspects of Irish life. By 1879 more than half of the land in Ireland was owned by fewer than a thousand landlords.

Friel illustrates the harsh class divide between the landlords in big houses and estates, through Christopher, and the dependent tenants, through the common villagers. Iglewski portrays Christopher in a benevolent light, allowing the audience to see him struggle in his position and his identity. This notion of homelessness links everyone together in The Lodge.

It is ironic that they have all their needs met in this big house, but they do not have a sense of place. Christopher and David feel burdened by their history, as they are not at home in England or Ireland. Margaret has left the familiar comfort of singing in her father's villager choir to live in The Lodge, but she is not at home in the village or manor.

Friel packs "The Home Place" with layers of complicated material, but he guides the audience with vivid images that advance the underlying ideas. The images are clear and the performance is flawless, but the plot falters at times and clings to a vague message.

"The Home Place" illustrates the fall of a culture and the complex class and racial conflicts of 19th century Ireland. Friel's work also has a broader focus because it conveys the timeless theme of homelessness, which may be applied to the human condition in many parallel contexts.





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