A wondrous, deceptive simplicity pervades Brian Friel’s “The Home Place,” now running at the Irish Repertory Theatre. You could safely say that the play is about a love triangle, the end of an era, pseudo-science, and the passions of music and poetry.
But the descriptions — indeed, any summations — fall far short.
That’s great art for you — impossible to wrap with a neat bow. “The Home Place” is simple yet sprawling, and generous to a fault.
We are in a country manor in Ballybeg, County Donegal, Ireland, and simultaneously, at the crossroads of civilization. And with such a wealth of insight and deep characterization on display, the best approach is to simply sit back and enjoy the work of this master craftsman, who is joined here by a terrific cast, guided and set free by the gentle hand of director Charlotte Moore.
“The Home Place” is a rare treasure: Every beat and syllable is well-considered, a facet to reflect the whole, in a naturalism so beguiling and devastating that we care as deeply for the characters as we do for our own futures, given the generous mirror Friel has created for us.
In the real world of theatre economics today, writers are discouraged from writing large-cast plays. Many theaters will not consider plays with more than six characters. “The Home Place” has 11, and each one — brief, lingering, or rooted to the manor floorboards — is a distinctive and rich portrait bursting beyond the confines of category or type.
Yes, we do have a lonely spinster, a saucy maid, a fading patriarch, a determined scientist, a bumpkin, a revolutionary and a colorful drunkard, but the writing itself soars far beyond cliché every time.
And though it is set in the Irish countryside of 14 decades ago, the dilemmas of choice, the fragility of society, and the counterweights of tradition and political power seem completely contemporary.
Rachel Pickup, John Windsor-Cunningham and Ed Malone deliver outstanding portrayals of individuals trapped by family circumstances, who despite bonds of love, seem doomed to circle in endless frustration. Christopher Randolph and Stephen Pilkington create a memorable team of political incorrectness.
And in a stunning sequence that is a tirade in defense of poetry and a torrid poem all its own, Robert Langdon Lloyd embodies the fiery muse of both Celtic incantation and the shameful frailty often intertwined with a life devoted to words and music.
The design work is top-rate. David Toser’s costumes, Michael Gottlieb’s lighting, and James Noone’s sets all serve the brimming life unfolding on the Irish Rep stage.
There is an old, sweet song in the air. But we are fools to delude ourselves with that alone, Friel might be saying.
Such is the bitter autumnal impact of this gorgeous play.