The scent and feel of an Irish bog in ‘Distillation’ from Solas Nua

In this intimate performance, every element is essential as Ireland’s landscape and history are brought to sensory life.

Distillation is an experiential, interactive production presented by Solas Nua and Abbey Theatre at Eaton DC, brought to life by creator and performer Luke Casserly. It’s a unique blend of performance art and theater, with Casserly serving as the bridge between them. At the heart of this bridge is the star performer, the Irish bog, symbolized by a circular custom-made table by sculptor Ger Clancy and miniature bottled fragrances to be discovered by the audience. Casserly, in his supporting role, beautifully honors the story of the Irish bogs and his deeply personal relationship with them. In this intimate performance, Ireland’s landscape and history are brought to life, allowing the audience to connect with them through scent and touch.

‘Distillation.’ Photo by Patricio Cassinoni.

The recent cessation of the peat harvesting industry in Ireland inspired this multidisciplinary performance, which features Casserly providing oral history, video, sound, and costume design.

Every element of the production is essential. The performance starts with smelling coffee beans to cleanse the scent palate and bring the audience to a place of presence. The organic materials of peat and moss pass from person to person for us to touch and smell. The stage is where the audience sits around the table, and the exchanges occur between stranger and artist and stranger.

Irish bogs, once a vital fuel source that created a significant need for jobs, now serve as a central reminder of our environmental impact. The peat-harvesting company Bord na Móna played a key role in this narrative. Peat harvesting, while contributing to carbon dioxide emissions, also had the potential to hold carbon dioxide within the bogs. However, when extracted, they can emit into the atmosphere, leading to the destruction of the ecosystem. Casserly and his family, living with the aftermath of the decision to start and stop peat harvesting, embody the complex and often devastating consequences of our actions on the environment.

Luke Casserly. Photo by Patricio Cassinoni.

Casserly plays the Irish bog. He gives voice to the material, allowing it to speak for itself. Casserly also uses dialogue from a real-life conversation he had with his father. A random audience member plays the father. The interactiveness of the play is a unique touch. How might the work have benefited from more dialogue and less lecture? What if the bog spoke more? What if the eerie weirdness was a much larger theme? The performance is detailed, calculated, delicate, compelling, and weird. The small moments of strangeness have a way of elevating the work.

Distillation reminds us that storytelling can take many forms and shapes, blending mediums and genres. Theater is still alive and well with experimental creativity.

Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes with no intermission.

Distillation runs through May 12, 2024, on Thursdays through Sundays at Eaton DC, 1201 K St NW, Washington, DC. For tickets ($45, with limited pay-what-you-can options for select performances) and further information, visit Solas Nua’s website.

Distillation also runs May 15 to 19, 2024, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD. Find tickets ($45) and further information at Eventbrite. 

A Solas Nua, Abbey Theatre, and Luke Casserly Production

Created by Luke Casserly
Perfume by Joan Woods
Sculpture by Ger Clancy
Dramaturgy by Rex Daugherty
Costume by Doreen McKenna
Additional Costume by Síofra Caherty
Video by Robert Higgins
Sound by Sam Hardiman
Stage Management by Grace Carter
Artistic Documentation by Fergal Styles
Production Photography by Patricio Cassinoni

Solas Nua brings Luke Casserly’s ‘Distillation’ experience to DC (news story, March 28, 2024)


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