There’s something about Irish playwrights. Maybe it’s the way they use language and their uncanny ability to merge past, present and future into a seamless continuum of awareness. There’s also the Irish knack for inserting an amusing scene even as the story is turning toward an inevitable tragic ending.
Marina Carr’s The Mai is a really good Irish play dating from 1994. The story features four generations of Irish women, varying from feisty, 100-year-old Grandma Fraochán to the teenage beauty Millie. As Carr’s viewpoint character, Millie brings the audience into her memories as she relives the disintegration of her family.
Director Penny Meagher’s production features matriarchal Shirley O’Key as Grandma. O’Key is turning 87 and appearing on stage for the first time in 15 years. There’s also a genuine teenager, Carissa Meagher, as Millie.
The key role goes to Bonnie Antonini as the Mai. A good-looking, resourceful 40-year-old woman, she’s successful at almost everything in life except her marriage, which is breaking her heart. After a somewhat uneven start, Antonini hits her stride and moves with growing momentum through the play’s second half. Mark Hoffman plays the charming, self-centered, wayward husband. He also performs on the cello with skill.
This production is not as continuously sustained and accomplished as Carr’s script; there are several uncertain moments early on. But there are many other scenes, particularly in the play’s second half, that are simply marvelous—like the late-night gathering of the Mai and two sisters on a sofa, discussing love’s disappointments over drinks and breaking into song.