The Mint is obviously deeply committed to Teresa Deevy, a forgotten Irish playwright whose plays were a staple of the Abbey Theater in the early part of the 20th century. “Wife to James Whelan” was a big hit for the company last season and “Katie Roche,” her most acclaimed work, is scheduled for production next year, as is the first of two volumes of her plays. Meanwhile, the rescue action continues apace with “Temporal Powers,” Deevy’s bleak but compelling 1932 drama about the moral dilemma that confounds an impoverished married couple when they come into some dirty money.
Helmer Jonathan Bank, the Mint’s gold-mining a.d., smartly directs to the rich language of this so-called “peasant play.” Deevy has set the domestic conflict between Michael (a stoic saint, in Aidan Redmond’s sensitive perf) and Min (given the old Irish-spitfire oomph by Rosie Benton) in a rural village in 1927, two years after the partition of Ireland. The newly divided nation was in the depths of an economic depression during this period between the wars, adding considerable poignancy to the earthy dialect spoken by an impoverished people isolated from half their countrymen — and, indeed, from one another.
An interesting program note from Amy Stoller, the company’s dialect maven, tells us that the “denseness” of the colloquial English spoken in the play, with its unfamiliar sentence structure and poetic idioms, owes its music to the Gaelic tongue spoken in rural parts. More remarkable yet, this lyrical language was written by a woman who had been deaf since the age of twenty.
“It is grand for the men can be passin’ the time pleasant with work, but myself must stop without a word outer me” is Min’s way of goading Michael after they are evicted from their home and forced to take shelter in an abandoned ruin (clean and cozy in Vicki R. Davis’s romantic set rendering).
“Will you stop quiet!” is Michael’s equally colorful response to her nagging. But both thesps prove adept at hinting at the affection behind their squabbling, and when Michael finds a hidden wad of cash in their derelict hovel (the ill-gotten gains of a robbery, as it turns out), you’d think their troubles would be over.
But Deevy uses this stroke of luck both to drive a wedge between husband and wife and to dramatize the broader moral conundrum faced by Ireland’s poorest population in these hard times. Practical wife that she is, Min eagerly plans their escape from poverty, while Michael clings to the traditional ethics of his class and resolves to turn the money over to the local priest.
“It was never in your heart to make money,” Min rails at Michael. “Now, what worse thing could be said of any man?”
Although it takes her three long acts to do it, Deevy manages to involve half the village in the couple’s moral dilemma. It’s a grand crowd, essentially good-hearted and comically opinionated, but so rubbed raw by poverty that it’s hard to condemn them for selling out their communal values for a succulent potato.
Bank has cast some stand-up thesps in these colorful roles, the kind of actors who know how to win sympathy for a character without playing to the house. Like their language — and indeed, their ancient rural culture — these characters were a dying breed when Deevy wrote about them. But this deaf scribe heard every word they had to say, and here, if only for a brief moment, she gives them back their voices.