I have often assumed that Jonathan Bank, artistic director of Off-Broadway’s invaluable Mint Theater Company, finds the extremely obscure and neglected works that the company produces each season by raiding the musty, cobweb-filled archives of a library, used bookshop or museum. But in the case of the 20th-century Irish playwright Teresa Deevy, Bank apparently found himself at the centuries-old house of Deevy’s family in Waterford, Ireland, where “in two suitcases stuffed under a bed was a treasure trove of typed manuscripts. (In the near future, perhaps undiscovered plays will be found electronically on a laptop or within email correspondence.)
Resurrecting Deevy’s literary reputation has become one of the Mint’s champion causes, with the creation of an official Teresa Deevy Project. In a program note, Bank calls her “undoubtedly the most brilliant playwright whose work I will ever have the privilege of re-introducing to the world.” Deevy, who was deaf, had six plays produced by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre in the 1930s. However, her plays quickly fell out of fashion and she spent the remainder of her life writing for radio.
In less than a decade, the Mint has produced Deevy’s Wife to James Whelan (2010), Temporal Powers (2011) and Katie Roche (2013) and published an anthology of her work. The Suitcase Under the Bed, the Mint’s latest tribute to Deevy, consists of four of her one-act plays, all of which have never been seen before in the U.S. Not only that, three of them are receiving their world premieres. All four are quiet, well-observed depictions of family and community life in early 20th-century rural Ireland, often built around young women who face difficult decisions about potential marriages.
The one-acts are generally slight in plotting. But taken together, they make for an intimate and interesting two-hour evening, with sensitive direction by Bank and a nimble six-member ensemble cast that includes A.J. Shively, who shined on Broadway last season as the male lead of the Southern-tinged musical romance Bright Star. Vicki R. Davis’ minimal but fitting scenic design is altered in between the one-acts (during which time some poems are unnecessarily recited).
First Up is “Strange Birth,” in which the resolutely upbeat young maid Sara Meade (Ellen Adair, Fiasco Theater’s Cymbeline) interacts with the busy, self-concerned residents of the boardinghouse where she works and ponders how a marriage proposal could change her steady lifestyle. This proved to be my favorite of the four plays, given the main character’s thoughtful and unusual perspective on life. Adair’s moments alone with Aidan Redmond (who plays the postman proposing to Sara) are quite lovely.
“In the Cellar of My Friend” is the saddest and most mysterious of the lot, with Belle (Sarah Nicole Deaver) also an unmarried young woman, expecting to marry the oblivious Barney (Shively), only to find out that the match is threatened by Barney’s widower father Thomas (Colin Ryan), who would like to marry Belle himself.
“Holiday House” has the makings of an ensemble drawing room comedy, built around a summertime family reunion where husband Derek (Ryan) and wife Jill (Gina Costigan) are to meet Derek’s brother Neil (Redmond) and wife Doris (Adair), who just happens to be Derek’s former fiancée. The backstory behind the breakup of Derek and Doris is explored, and the piece contains some witty moments and remarks, but it feels unfinished – and it is. Apparently, the Abbey opted not to produce the play in 1938, putting an end not only to “Holiday House” but Deevy’s playwriting career.
The evening ends with “The King of Spain’s Daughter,” the only one-act that is not receiving its first-ever production. As with the other one-acts, it involves an awkward union, this time between the aggressive, dreamy-eyed Annie (Deaver) and sad-sack, well-meaning menial worker Jim (Shively), who works alongside Annie’s abusive father (Redmond). It is a fitting piece to end with since it has an especially hopeful and moving ending.
As it happens, there are even more one-act plays by Deevy, which the Mint published in Teresa Deevy Reclaimed: Volume Two. Perhaps Banks will stage the rest of them next season with The Suitcase Under the Bed: Part Two.