The Mint Theater is continuing its commitment to neglected works this summer with The Suitcase Under the Bed, a collection of four one-act plays written by little-known Irish playwright Teresa Deevy. The female playwright, whose work was produced by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre in the 1930s, has been a continued focus for the Mint since the theater company began its Teresa Deevy Project in 2009.
While the theater has mounted Deevy’s full-length works in the past, Suitcase Under the Bed unearths the dramatist’s largely unproduced shorter fare, recovering scripts from two suitcases in the playwright’s Waterford, Ireland, family home. Introduced with a voice-over by Deevy’s grandniece Jacqui Deevy, and separated by two entr’acte poems, the short pieces, directed by Jonathan Bank, provide a gently charming insight into early 20th-century Irish life.
Kicking off the plays is Strange Birth, set in the front hall of a shared house as maid Sara Meade (Ellen Adair) tends to the tenants’ love-borne tribulations, from the impending arrival of the long-unseen son of Mrs. Taylor (Cynthia Mace) to the worries of Mr. Bassett (A.J. Shively) about the lack of letters from the girl he loves. When the postman (Aidan Redmond) makes an unexpected stop at the house, Sara faces a love situation of her own, forcing her to confront whether marriage is truly what she wants. The short piece thrives thanks to Adair’s winningly eager acting and Mace’s heartbreakingly excited portrayal, though the brevity of the play makes its larger revelations feel slightly rushed and inorganic.
This central theme of the messy intricacies of love continues throughout the evening, with the second play, In the Cellar of My Friend, centering on Belle, a young woman (Sara Nicole Deaver) who arrives at the home of her new fiancé, Barney (Shively again)—only to discover that he has fled town and it’s his father (Colin Ryan) who’s really vying for her hand. As Barney reappears to wait for a train, Belle must confront his decision to take a new path in life and determine what course she’ll take in his absence. Deaver portrays the central role with devastating conviction, infusing the piece with emotion and making her character’s sudden fate feel potently heartbreaking.
The third short play, Holiday House, takes a much more cavalier approach to marriage, as two brothers, Derek (Colin Ryan) and Neil (Aidan Redmond) and wives, Jil (Gina Costigan)—who also happens to be Neil’s former lover—and Doris (Adair), his current wife, converge in the family’s holiday home, spurring arguments and rekindling old flames. Though the piece centers on the marriage drama, it’s the brothers’ unattached sister Hetty who steals the show through Deaver’s eagerness and understated physical comedy.
Rounding out the production is the darkest piece, The King of Spain’s Daughter, centering on a laborer (Redmond) and the punishment that ensues when his daughter, Annie (Deaver), arrives late with his daily meal. With a town wedding dominating the characters’ attention, Annie must decide what her own married fate will be as fellow laborer Jim (Shively) vies for her affections. The downtrodden piece—the only one of the four to have been previously produced, at the Abbey Theatre in 1935—provides a needed contrast to some of the evening’s lighter fare, and is portrayed with strong conviction by the talented cast.
Taken together, the four pieces paint a portrait of rural Irish life that both celebrates its everyday mundanities and hints at life’s larger truths. Deevy offers brief snapshots into colorful lives, and the playwright fleshes out her characters and the complex crossroads they find themselves at clearly and succinctly within each play’s pleasurably quick running time.
The pared-down production is aided by its aesthetics that infuse the evening with an atmospheric Irish feel, from Jane Shaw’s melodic Irish folk tunes to Vicki R. Davis’s sets and Zach Blane’s lighting design. The production’s design is minimal yet lushly evocative of the Irish landscape, with the richly-hued sky that serves as the backdrop for several plays being a particular highlight. The versatile cast, too, helps to infuse life into Deevy’s gentle works, deftly displaying their range as they seamlessly transform into the evening’s various characters.
Ultimately, however, it’s Deevy’s words that take center stage, as her scripts bring vivid worlds to life through her understatedly lyrical style. Serving as the perfect introduction to this unsung playwright, The Suitcase Under the Bed demonstrates why these long-unseen plays deserve their chance to shine.
The Mint Theater Company's production of The Suitcase Under the Bed plays through Sept. 30 at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St. between 9th and 10th avenues). Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays (excluding Sept. 13). For tickets and information, visit minttheater.org.