Compelling Performances in REV Theatre Company’s CARTHAGINIANS

by Dennis Dougherty

Irish theatre is rich in the use of myth, memory, poetry and suffering, and Frank McGuinness’ CARTHAGINIANS is no exception. The playwright explores an allegorical connection between the ancient city of Carthage and the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, where the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 remain a defining moment in the “troubles” between Catholics and Protestants there. Here a group of Derry residents struggle with the aftermath of that day (when 13 young Irish Catholics were killed as British forces fired on civil rights demonstrators) even though it is 10 years later.

Amanda Schoonover, Rudy Caporaso, Danielle Adams and Susan Giddings in CARTHAGINIANS, a REV Theatre Company production.

 Three local Derry women await a hoped-for “return” of the dead in the local cemetery, encouraged and/or challenged by several men from town, and over the course of a few days they explore and expose emotional scars that remain after a decade.

REV Theatre Company’s contribution to the 2011 Fringe Festival stages McGuinness’ play in an actual cemetery for a site-specific production that, in the end, lacks focus and doesn’t always “make sense” of the complex narrative. A gay, fame-seeking, cross-dressing local who brings supplies to those holding the vigil takes his name – Dido – and his demeanor from the ancient Queen of Carthage; he sparks debate, anger, conflict, remembrance, laughter and catharsis through his antics and his immature play-within-a-play that poorly but creatively examines the community’s turmoil.

Director Rosemary Hay elicits compelling performances from most of the cast and she captures an interesting tone for the piece, though the themes and intentions do not always flow naturally from one moment to another and the pacing of the piece can be awkward at times. There are effective “pictures” created throughout the evening, but the playing area is spread out to the point that it diminishes the intimacy of the exchanges and situations between these characters.

It does not feel as if the director or the actor (Rudy Caporaso) take the central character of Dido seriously, opting for caricature over character. And while the rest of the cast is generally excellent, there is a sense that they have only begun to scratch the surface of these wounded characters.

That being said, Andrew Carroll is particularly riveting as Seph, a young man who has not spoken out of guilt over his experiences related to Bloody Sunday. He, as much as anything in this production, evokes the tension and the tenderness of the story. The three women are nicely realized: Amanda Schoonover is a wonderfully remote and sensible Sarah; Danielle Adams is both brash and indifferent as Greta; and Susan Giddings shines as the deluded but insightful Maela. Brian McManus is effective as the brash and enigmatic troublemaker Hark, while Erik Endsley can be both moving and occasionally overwrought as the irrational pyramid builder, Paul.

Despite these admirable performances, McGuinness’ play requires a more cohesive vision than is exhibited here.

by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Rosemary Hay
September 2-17, 2011
REV Theatre Company
Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church
916 South Swanson Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Laurel Hill Cemetery
3822 Ridge Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19132-1840

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