By the Bog of Cats

Rated 5.0 The scariest show in town has nothing to do with Halloween. It’s By the Bog of Cats, an Irish version of the Greek tragedy Medea. This recent adaptation by a prizewinning young playwright from Dublin features an actress who’s perfect for the role.

Janis Stevens (who was excellent as Vivien Leigh in a solo show several years back) has the right stuff for the central part. Her long black hair frames her steely gaze when she glares through her eyebrows with her face tilted down. With the ability to convey loud howls of anguish and low-voiced deadly threats, Stevens is fully committed throughout. She makes this dark journey compelling and intense, even though the outcome is foretold from the get-go.

My benchmark for this performance is Dame Judith Anderson, who badgered California’s Robinson Jeffers into re-scripting Medea in 1948. She took it to Broadway and won a Tony. I had the opportunity to hear Anderson read from Jeffers’ script in the 1980s, and Stevens’ performance conjures memories of that occasion. She’s good!

Marina Carr’s script transplants the tragedy into dirt-poor rural Ireland, contrasting native Celtic mysticism against Catholic piety and small-minded village attitudes. Carr also works in lots of playful Irish language. Within the tragic frame, there are scenes that are remarkably funny—including a wedding banquet where a dotty old priest can’t manage to say the blessing correctly. But it’s the devastating, inevitable conclusion that closes the deal.

Director Ray Tatar has assembled a strong, experienced cast of 12. Several members, like Gerald Gough or Charlie Holliday, have film or TV credits. Others, like Allen Pontes and Katherine Pappa, are familiar from leading roles in local community productions. It’s a big, talented cast performing in a 50-seat venue—doubtless a labor of love.