The Abbey yard of Patricia M. Mahon’s same-named play is actually the small cemetery surrounding Duiske Abbey in the Irish town of Graignamanagh. The name is Gaelic for “Village of the Monks,” and honors the devout friars who built the monastery seven centuries before, and who were later slaughtered by rampaging English soldiers. Their spirits are said to haunt the grounds and their chanting still reverberates within the massive building’s stone walls. We learn this in the first five minutes of the play.
Such a setup implies an eerie, mystical quality to the show, so it’s odd that director Phillip Scarpaci ignores that element — especially given later events. The live Celtic music helps set a lovely, enchanting tone, but it’s immediately displaced by Scarpaci’s flat, straight-ahead interpretation that neither supports nor invokes the spirit of the story (based on the life and experiences of Mahon’s grandmother).
Adolescent Sadie (Carolyn Palmer), orphaned in infancy, was raised by her stern Aunt Maeve (Lia Sargent) and happy drunkard Uncle Seamus (Dave Florek).
During a forbidden visit to the Abbey cemetery, she encounters a stranger (David Lee Smith) who may be her father’s ghost, or her father in the flesh. Though enough clues are dropped to indicate the answer, the contrary manner in which these, and other events, are presented makes acceptance of it difficult.
Perhaps Scarpaci aimed for heightened uncertainty, but such a choice seems in conflict with the author’s intent. His dry directorial style not only clashes with Mahon’s more lyrical, expressive style of writing, it leaves the audience unaffected by the story and uncertain about what kind of story it is.
The program notes indicate the immense Abbey dominates the physicality of the town and the psyches of its citizenry. But no such sense of grandeur exists in Wendy Samuels production design. And while the cast is an earnest lot, Scarpaci makes it impossible to connect to them.
It’s easy to admire the intensity of Flynn (James Parks), a hotheaded recruiter for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and Michael (Bryan Glanney), Maeve’s brother, desperate to both protect his young niece and prove himself to Flynn. Or to appreciate Maeve’s situation as she weeps at her sister’s grave. But to feel for these people? No. Emotional attachment here is as unlikely as raising back to life the dead who are buried in the Abbey yard.