Sunday, August 21, 2011

THE CONVERSATION • The Black Mirror Theatre Company

There's a new theatre company in town folks, and THE CONVERSATION, written by St. Louisan Dennis Corcoran, is The Black Mirror Theatre Company's inaugural performance.
This play focuses on a discussion between Queen Elizabeth I and Gráinne Ní Mháille, or Grace O'Malley.  Grace was an Irish pirate and chieftain of the Ó Máille clan.  In the 16th century when England was in the process of trying to gain rule over Ireland, many Gaelic chieftains were handing over their land to the monarch and adopting fancy English titles, but Grace was a thorn in England's side -- a "bleeding ulcer" who refused to submit.  Her notorious exploits on the sea also posed a threat to England's purse.  When Grace's son and half-brother were imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth's armies, she sailed to English soil to seek favor and petition their release.
I was particularly interested in this show because a few years ago I saw THE PIRATE QUEEN, a 2007 musical about Grace O'Malley starring Broadway crush numero uno, Stephanie J. Block.  Yes, she was brilliant.  The show itself?  Not so much.  In this not so well received production, the exchange between these powerful women was a short scene with the two silhouetted behind a scrim, so I was excited to see a play devoted to this notable visit.
Katie Robinson (Grace O'Malley of Ireland)
and Gwynneth Rausch (Elizabeth I of England).
The play begins with the Queen (Gwynneth Rausch) preparing to meet with Grace (Katie Robinson).  Although Elizabeth's advisor, Sir William Cecil (Brian J. Rolf), is highly suspicious of Grace, the Queen is open to meeting with her, not only to try to get her to win over the Irish hold-outs, but also seemingly out of curiosity about this female Irish pirate.  The two women find out that in addition to being fluent in latin, they have many more things in common than they might have thought -- mainly their sense of being shackled to their people.  Their styles are different, but their responsibilities are very similar.  Although Grace proves a tough nut to crack, the two achieve a mutual respect for one another along with a cautious friendship.  This account of their dialogue is fictional (nobody really knows the details of the actual conversation), but this play gives us a credible look at the way things may have gone down.
Dennis Corcoran's play is written well, but Michelle Rebollo's direction seemed a little slow -- a lot of pregnant pauses and staring off into space.  Katie Robinson's Grace O'Malley was wily and smart with a convincing Irish brogue while Gwynneth Rausch's Elizabeth I of England seemed a little more tentative.  Their discourse, while intriguing, lacked the fire and bite that you would expect from a show that primarily concentrates on this meeting of determined personalities. The set, costumes and lighting, along with the lovely pre-show music, set the mood beautifully.
Although this production is a pretty short run, with only a couple of performances left, I look forward to seeing what this new company does next!
Written by Dennis Corcoran
Directed by Michelle Rebollo; assistant director - Bethany "Duke" Dukett
The Focal Point, 2720 Sutton Ave.
through August 21 | tickets: $10
Performances Friday the 19th at 7pm, Saturday and Sunday at 5pm & 7:30pm
Gwynneth Rausch (Elizabeth I of England), Katie Robinson (Gráinne Ní Mháille or Grace O'Malley of Ireland) and Brian J. Rolf (Sir William Cecil, Chief Advisor to Elizabeth).
Costume design by Sharon Corcoran; scenic design, lighting design & sound design by Megan E. King; makeup design by Derek Robertson.

Pre-show music:
Friday @ 7pm - Molly Krippene
Saturday @ 5pm - Shannon Kelly
Saturday @ 7:30 - Kate Nellis
Sunday @ 5pm - Natalie O'Loughlin
Sunday @ 7:30 - Mariah Mullins

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