Review: ‘The Home Place’ at Irish Repertory Theatre

Brian Friel’s play, The Home Place, has taken its time to find its way to New York, where it arrived in good hands at the newly renovated Irish Repertory Theatre off Broadway. The play premiered in 2005 at the Gate Theatre in Dublin before transferring to the West End n London and is only now having its premiere in the USA. The playwright died in 2015 and Charlotte Moore, the Irish Rep’s Artistic Director, has longed for the right moment to bring this final work of Brian Friel’s to New York. She’s directed it herself in a manner that would have pleased him. She’s rounded up an excellent cast which includes Rachel Pickup as Margaret and John Windsor-Cunningham as Christopher Gore, both impressive.

Ed Malone, Rachel Pickup, and John Windsor-Cunningham in The Home Place. Photograph courtesy of Irish Repertory Theatre.

Set in the parlor of Christopher Gore’s house (“the Lodge”) in Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland, in the summer of 1878, we meet Mr. Gore’s son David, and his longtime housekeeper Margaret O’Donnell, for whom both father and son feel unrequited love. Christopher is a native of England, which is to him “the home place,” though he’s lived in Ballybeg for forty years. His cousin, Dr. Richard Gore, arrives and becomes a house-guest, as does the doctor’s assistant, Perkins. The doctor is an anthropologist and he’s traveling through Ireland taking cranial measurements and recording the physical characteristics of the locals. His theory is that the Irish are inferior and he believes his data will prove that. Con Doherty is a young rebel who will come to confront Christopher Gore.

Ed Malone in The Home Place. Photograph courtesy of Irish Repertory Theatre.

The play discusses the murder of a despised English landlord, Lord Lifford, in April 1878, just prior to the opening scene. It goes on, during the course of a single day, to tell the stories of the father-son wooing of Margaret, and the violent conflict which has been brought to a head by Con Doherty who represents a group of Irish patriots who resent Dr. Gore’s determination to prove the inferiority of the Irish through his cranial examinations.

Friel is an established and highly-accomplished playwright, with an international reputation. Philadelphia, Here I Come, which introduced him to American audiences as early as 1964, was followed by Faith Healer, Translations, Dancing at Lughnasa and others which have revealed his lifelong commitment to write in order to “reverberate quietly and persistently in the head, long after the curtain comes down and the audience has gone home.” The Home Place does accomplish this, but it cannot evoke the deeply personal response that it must have in Irishmen like Brian Friel.

The play is literate, and offers many choice confrontations which give opportunity to actors of quality to engage themselves and us out front as well. To those I’ve mentioned, I add Polly McKie as a lower class scullery maid, Con Doherty as the tough who threatens the British who are against the beginnings of Irish Home Rule, which he champions. Occasionally, Moore might have required a cutting back from one or two of her players, but all are effective in letting us in on what was, for me, a glimpse of a time and place I hadn’t known. She’s done us a service by resurrecting this play that clearly meant so much to its author. The set by James Noone, the costumes by David Toser, the lighting by Michael Gottlieb and the original music by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab all contribute mightily to the unified style of the piece, and all of its production values are fully realized.

Charlotte Moore has assembled a first rate ensemble to breathe life into this glimpse of a divisive time in Ireland’s history. Sadly, it seems scarily relevant.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with no intermission.

The Home Place plays through November 19, 2017, at the Irish Repertory Theatre – 132 West 22nd Street in New York, NY. For tickets, call the box office at (212) 727-2737 or purchase them online.


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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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