Kennedy … Stephanie Zimbalist
Kennedy … Kathleen Noone
Fitzpatrick …Shanna Reed
Three dialogues for three generations of Irish sisters make up Los Angeles-based Mary Hanes’ “The Crimson Thread.” Calling on the American immigrant experience for its source material, the work is ultimately not quite a play. Though there’s some wistful, lyrical writing along the way, and though its cast is just fine, only in the play’s final act does it threaten to ignite dramatically as it recalls New York’s appalling Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire , in which 143 locked-in sweatshop women and girls lost their lives.
Each dialogue is a static reminiscence of the past, and virtually nothing dynamic occurs onstage. What’s more, the two sisters in each act tend to talk at rather than to each other, Hanes failing to evoke depth or texture. That the Shirtwaist tragedy gives the last act a boost is more a function of that event’s historic power than of the validity of the play or its characters.
Act 1, titled “The Crimson Thread,” takes place in Ireland in 1869, Stephanie Zimbalist and Kathleen Noone playing poor married sisters discussing their husbands. Zimbalist’s spouse has been in America for three years and is now asking her and their children to join him there. Noone’s husband is dying of black lung disease from working in the Welsh coal mines. A third character, a widow on a New England widow’s walk, bears mute witness to this act throughout.
Act 2, “Moonlight,” is set in New Bedford, Mass., in 1889. In this act the sister who remained in Ireland bears mute witness to what’s happening in New Bedford. The witnesses don’t pay off theatrically, and neither do the far-too-long stretches of Irish music. But the use of the same three actresses throughout does point up the bloodline that threads the play’s six women tightly together.
The third act, “Above the Flames,” takes place in a meeting hall in New York a week after the Shirtwaist fire. In it Noone is a committed union leader about to deliver a speech recalling the fire and demanding preventive measures. This vigorous, evocative passage ends the play on a high note thanks to the potent subject matter and Noone’s feistiness.
There’s potentially involving material here, but Hanes hasn’t dramatized it sufficiently. Her cast does everything it can to disguise this fact, though director Dan Lauria has added to rather than subtracted from the script’s quiescence. Set designer Thomas Cariello has done a simply effective job of suggesting Ireland, New Bedford and New York. But “The Crimson Thread” never beats with dramatic life.