Irish playwright Marina Carr attempts to capture the thoughts and sentiments of a woman during her last hours alive in Woman and Scarecrow. With skillful direction by Ciarán O’Reilly, this production delves into the innermost feelings of a woman who is learning about the meaning of life at the last possible moment. Carr has chosen to use general character names that could represent anyone, to suggest a universality to the situation: the principals here are Woman, Scarecrow, Him, Aunty Ah and Thing.
Woman (Stephanie Roth Haberle) lies on her deathbed, mulling and revisiting moments of her life. They include past affairs, childhood memories and her life as a wife. She discusses them all with Scarecrow. The thread that connects the elements is sadness and want. Her life was not what she hoped it would be, and now she is about to bury her dreams and aspirations.
Woman’s relationship with her husband and the regrets and memories from that relationship are central to the plot. An abusive man and who frequently cheated on her, Him was also an absentee father to her eight children. Even though she was the mother of so many children, her life revolved around Him, and his behavior often dictated her actions.
She reveals that she has also had numerous affairs because Him (Aidan Redmond) was not there; his absence caused much of her pain and suffering. She remembers every detail of their relationship, every time he left, what he did and said. She has elaborately catalogued each tear he caused her and, as she approaches the hour of her death, Him plagues her memories. Because she loved him, she couldn’t leave the family they had created. And even though he can barely distinguish between his children, and his lover is waiting outside in the car, Woman forgives him and they embrace in bed.
Woman shares her deathbed with Scarecrow (Pamela J Gray). Scarecrow may be her alter ego, conscience or medicine-enhanced hallucination. Her identity is not clear, but their relationship seems to go back a lifetime. Scarecrow has been with Woman through the perils and triumphs. She knows Woman. She provides Woman with honest critiques that prompt retrospection and self-questioning on Woman’s part. She slowly realizes that she was not bound to the life she chose. She could have left her husband. She could have been happy but she chose to stay, whether it was because of fear, comfort, or love.
Scarecrow also maintains Woman’s memories. When Woman retells a story from her past, Scarecrow asks her to go back and really remember the details of the event. She won’t tell Woman the actual memory but rather lets her resolve the fuzziness on her own. Scarecrow has kept Woman alive for many years. She had high hopes for her and is disappointed by the life Woman chose. She points out the many options she could have taken—such as marrying one of her lovers—she took them as a form of revenge, and out of loneliness as well. One of them even wanted to marry her.—but didn’t. Gray does a stellar job of going through the motions with Woman. Scarecrow captures the duality of a lifetime confidant and blunt friend.
The scene design by Charlie Corcoran is dreary and dark. The bedroom is small and cramped, coffin-like. It coordinates well with the event that is about to occur. The closet on the set adds an element of surprise and symbolism. Symbolic of the doors of death opening. Ultimately, Death, or the Thing in the closet, can no longer wait, and it makes a grand entrance (with superb costume and mask design by, respectively, Whitney Locher and Bob Flanagan: the feathers and claws are creepy and terrifying). Death must take her; her time is up.
Carr’s grim script offers little humor. Aunty Ah (Dale Soules), for instance, appears to lighten the mood; she was Woman’s caretaker after her mother died, but there Woman shows little warmth for her. The anger and angst of Woman’s last thoughts center predominantly on love lost. Woman and Scarecrow encourages audiences to think about life and the importance of one’s choices. It drives home the message that life is just too short to be unhappy.
Woman and Scarecrow plays through June 24 in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd St.). Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 7 p.m. Thursdays; matinees are at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available by calling (212) 727-2737 or visiting irishrep.org.