Lay Me Down Softly

Lay Me Down Softly

Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Theatre Banshee
Through August 23

 

 

Photo by Erin Noble

Photo by Erin Noble

  • Lay Me Down Softly

    Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
    Theatre Banshee
    Through August 23

     

     

    Photo by Erin Noble

    Photo by Erin Noble

     

     

    In Irish playwright Billy Roche’s family drama, Peadar (John McKenna), a gentle man in a rough and unforgiving world, reminisces to his friend’s daughter, Emer (Kristen Kollender), about his encounter with her mother, Joy. In his story, Joy had just been abandoned by the girl’s callous dad, Theo (Andrew Graves), and Peadar had come to offer Joy solace and a day’s bed and breakfast - until she could pull herself together and be on her way. In the course of the evening, Joy read him one of her poems, whose refrain “ lay me down softly” spoke to visions of a loving peaceful life – a reality denied both Joy and Peadar and, until the end, everyone else in the story as well.

     

     

    The play is set in the early 1960s in the boxing arena of an Irish traveling carnival. The outfit is run by Theo -- an intimidating boss with a short fuse, and a penchant for physical revenge against those who cross him. There are many of those, since Theo’s flirtatious girlfriend Lily (Kacey Camp), bitter and bossy when she’s not being seductive, is bold in her carryings-on. The other frequenters of the boxing enterprise, in which members of the public are exhorted to challenge the resident boxer, are that resident boxer, Dean (Kevin Stidham), and a now injured, former fighter named Junior (Patrick Quinlan). Junior now works as a handyman around the carnival and occasionally takes a turn in the ring.

     

     

    The catalyst for change is the arrival of Emer, now a runaway looking to escape the abusive custody of her uncle. Shrewd and observant, she’s soon wise to the group’s dynamics. She’s also attracted to sweet, brawny Junior, and in no time they are an item, picnicking in the boxing ring and, to Peadar’s delight and Lily’s jealous chagrin, stealing passionate embraces whenever and wherever they can. Contrary to expectations, these scenes swiftly become the production’s most involving ones -- not because Emer and Junior and their the puppy-love scenario are the most interesting facet of the play (other characters are more elaborately and deftly drawn by the writer) -- but because of the persuasive edginess that Kollender -- supported by Quinlan -- brings to her performance.

     

     

    In this, Kollender stands out among the ensemble which, under Sean Branney’s direction, displays notable skill with the Irish brogue and other physical elements of their roles. On opening night, however, the company fell short on internal nuance and in making these characters their own.

     

     

    As the bullying Theo, Graves needs to be far more menacing, and McKenna’s Peadar only skims the surface of a man whose own dreams have come and gone but who still generously harbors dreams for others. The most remedial work needs to be done by Camp, whose tempestuous vamp Lily is facilely defined by come-hither heels, twitching hips and a suggestive leer. It’s a terrific role -- too earthy, angry and passionate to be compressed into a set of mannerisms.

     

     

    Theatre Banshee, 3435 Magnolia Blvd. Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 23.818.547.3810, theatrebanshee.org/

     

     

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