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Sive at PICT Classic Theatre

Director Alan Stanford excels at this form of theater

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Sive (rhymes with “dive”) is the kind of play that bedevils New York critics. One recently called it “a clunky old melodrama” (sniff), and although it is indeed a simple tale, I suspect that its lack of vulgarity and profanity is really what prevents it from being cool in their eyes.

This 1959 work by Irish dramatist John B. Keane (presented by PICT Classic Theatre) is about character and language — you know, those clunky old conventions that playwrights like Shakespeare used.
Set in 1950s rural Ireland, the plot involves a matchmaker trying to wed a young woman, Sive (Cassidy Adkins), to a grossly older man, Sean (Charles David Richards), and the effect this has on their small, intrusive community.

Karen Baum is superb as Sive’s conniving aunt Mena. Her acting is powerful, and her stagecraft meticulous (the way she prepares a loaf of bread for baking would make Julia Child jealous). And even with the muddy acoustics of the Union Project space, the elocution of Baum’s dialect gives cut and edge to every syllable of Keane’s rustic, poetic dialogue (“Tomorrow is to come yet. Take care”).
The relentless matchmaker Tomasheen (James FitzGerald) manipulates Sive’s family like an anxious hyena anticipating his next meal. FitzGerald portrays him with a delicious mixture of eccentricity, greed and madness.

Tom Driscoll, as Sive’s true love, Liam, doesn’t overplay the sad earnestness of this part, while Martin Giles as Pats the tinker brings gravity to a role which most actors would inflate with cliché. Sharon Brady as Nanna, Sive’s grandmother, is also strong.

Director Alan Stanford excels at this form of theater, never getting in the way of the text, and helping his cast create characters of original interpretation.

Although the utilization of a profile stage arrangement worked well for PICT’s recent Oedipus Rex (the audience serving as a kind of ghostly extension of the chorus), seeing half the brightly lit house staring back at you diminishes the intimacy of a play ostensibly cloistered in one small room.

But if you love great acting and language, go see Sive. Just don’t invite your hipster friends from New York.

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