History, on repeat
The news is heavy with darkness these days—incomprehensible violence and ethnic cleansings, wars and weapons, murders and mayhem. History reveals it’s been forever thus, as exemplified in playwright Helen Edmundson’s The Clearing that humanizes the conflicts of 17th-century Ireland when Cromwell’s English army sets out to clear the Irish from their homeland.
The personal price paid by those trapped in the conflicts is the focus of Ovation Stage’s production, which tells the story of a young married couple with roots and allegiances in two different countries: Englishman Robert Preston (Zach Coles) and his Irish wife Madeleine (Meghan Nealon). Both Robert and Madeleine are keen on surviving Cromwell’s systematic ethnic cleansing, but each want to take a different route—Robert wants to ingratiate himself with the local English governor while Madeleine’s heart is with her Irish countrymen.
Both Coles and Nealon successfully portray the push and pull of young love under political pressure, making audience members feel for their conflicting views. Brent Dirksen is strong as the heartless governor, and Georgann Wallace and Steve Buri provide the fighting Irish spirit. And the Wilkerson Theatre’s small venue captures the feeling of the villagers being trapped both physically and emotionally.
There is a creative misstep in this production—a musician plays the viola throughout the entire play—even during the dialogue, which proves to be very distracting. Though Patrick Claypool is a talented musician, the music is best left to scene changes or act openings and closings—an easy remedy that would help strengthen the play.