Michelle Dooley Mahon’s worthwhile solo show The Scourge carries a title with two meanings – one affectionate, one anything but. It’s the girlhood nickname of this Irish writer and performer. It’s Alzheimer’s, a cruel disorder that led to the slow, terrible death of her mother. A big plus of this 85-minute work at the Irish Repertory Theater is the balance of light and dark. Another key asset is Mahon’s down-to-earth likability.
Directed by Ben Barnes, it’s a bare-bones affair. The stage is empty, except a wardrobe. Mahon, who adapted the monologue from her memoir, makes her entrance from the cupboard, pulls out props – a tiny Christmas tree to mark holidays that come and go, an ironing board, flowers – and retreats into it regularly for a costume change. All the while she recalls visits with her mother in a nursing home and the devastating aftershocks. Factor in some shifts in the lighting and music cues – songs by Supertramp, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and others set a mood – and that’s it.
That’s enough. The story is the star, and Mahon has a gift for painting evocative pictures with words. Her description of a “house so small you couldn’t turn a sweet in your mouth” keeps turning in my head. Too bad Mahon has a habit of racing through lines so that words blur. She’s put a glossary of Irish lingo in the program to be helpful. Slowing down would be even more valuable.