The Steward of Christendom | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Steward of Christendom


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THE STEWARD OF CHRISTENDOM, Organic Touchstone Company. A gorgeous play that sums up a lot of sorrows, Sebastian Barry's exquisitely written drama pays homage to the playwright's great-grandfather. Driven and divided, Thomas Dunne was superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police before the founding of the Irish Free State; a Catholic, he nevertheless aided the British oppression of his countrymen. He's also haunted by his failure to stop the assassination of Sinn Fein leader Michael Collins, which triggered the Irish Civil War.

It's 1932 and Dunne, committed to a rural mental home, alternately strikes out at "shadows" and cajoles the staff. In a series of potent mad scenes (as demanding for the audience as they are for the actor), Dunne replays his devotion to Queen Victoria, the loss of his teenage son in World War I, the dispersal of his daughters, the death of his devoted wife, and his doomed dream of dying on his Wicklow farm. Dunne's potent memories, erupting in lyrical outbursts of brilliant blarney, recall the intoxicating cadences of John Millington Synge and the bitter ripostes of King Lear's fool.

Though Ina Marlowe's Organic Touchstone staging is hemmed in by Joseph Tilford's claustrophobic cell (an effect eased by Heather Gilbert's moody lighting), fluid flashbacks delivered with increasing urgency compensate. Running a terrifying gauntlet, Lawrence McCauley balances Dunne's regrets with his crackbrained devotion to a broken family. Dominating the sturdy cast is Moira Brennan, striking fire as the handicapped daughter whose anger at her father has kept her love alive.

--Lawrence Bommer

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