Dense and sinister-a fog slowly rolls over the audience’s heads setting the stage for a performance of visiting playwright Marina Carr’s “By the Bog of Cats.” The fog preludes the clouds of malady that is to fall over the characters. The audience is introduced right away to the setting, the actual Bog of Cats, which glows with ghoulish shades of greens, patches of moss and pools of eerie waters that appear almost mystical with the fog continuously stretching its opaque mists through the audience. Immediately the audience is invited to observe the bog – where myth, jeopardy and the supernatural come together.
“Whenever I read a Marina Carr play, I get a sense of having to look over my shoulder,” Simon Williams, the chair of UCSB’s dramatic art dept., said. “We’re always surrounded by the dark [in Carr’s plays]. People are constantly living half in and half out of life.”
Irish writer Marina Carr, who Williams said is “one of the leading artists of the world,” graced the UCSB community with her sultry, low voice while reading from her work Friday at Hatlen Theatre. Carr’s discussion of her various projects was followed by the opening of Carr’s play “By the Bog of Cats,” also at Hatlen.
Directed with careful style by Judith Olauson, “By The Bog of Cats” accomplishes just what Williams says about Carr’s writing. The play is dark and extremely dramatic, with occasional sparks of Irish wit. The production marks the end of Olauson’s career, who is planning on retiring after 30 years of directing and teaching at UCSB. Set in the wet and rural Ireland, the play is a gripping adaptation based loosely on the Greek myth of Medea. Hester Swane (Nancy Finn) is haunted by her missing mother and dubious past as well as being tormented by the father of her child Carthage Kilbride (Zach Appelman). Carthange is leaving her for a much younger and more socially respectable woman, Caroline Cassady (Amy Gumenick). Hester clings to her child Josie Kilbride (Jessie Sherman) and conducts a number of troublesome scenarios, which stir up the Bog of Cats community.
Comic relief of the tragic story occurs during the wedding scene when the audience is much in need of a few laughs. To lighten the dark tone of the play, a cozy relationship between the forgetful Father Willow (Will McFadden) and the mice-munching, grotesquely teethed, supernatural Catwoman (Katie Buoye) is introduced. The actors were presented with a great challenge of all mastering an Irish accent. At times there were some wayward inflections of voice, but for the most part the actors were successful in convincing the audience that if asked if their Irish brogue was authentic they would answer “it’s part of me everyday speaking.”
Is “The Bog of Cat’s” this theatre season’s “the cat’s meow”? From the incredible set, terrific depictions of characters and some of UCSB’s finest actors, this is an extremely dark albeit worthwhile play which succeeds in its manifestation of Marina Carr’s script. However, be prepared for tragedy. To lighten the mood after the Irish play, I suggest you dance an Irish jig, go to your nearest pub and have yourself a pint and get buckled. Or just, go home and rustle up some comforting potatoes, cabbage and corned beef. Irish people eat corned beef, right? You’ll have to find your own optimistic pot of gold. The play continues this week with performances, running from March 9 to 11 at 8:00 p.m., tickets are $13 for students.