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NY Theater Reviews

Terry Donnelly and Úna Clancy/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

PATRON OF THE ARTS

By SANDY MACDONALD

The portrait of this bio-play wouldn't have liked the way it makes sport of the shenanigans of ignorant peasants.

Pity the patron of the arts: always the helpmeet, so rarely the center of attention. As one of 16 offspring in a rich Irish Protestant family, Lady Gregory (née Isabella Augusta Persse) was accustomed to being somewhat lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t until age 27, when she married a rich politician 35 years her senior, that she came into some serious money. Once widowed, she used the proceeds to promote the cause of Irish theatre, a genre hitherto dismissed – per a mission statement she co-wrote with new pal “Willie” (William Butler Yeats) for a precursor of the Abbey Theatre – as depictions “of buffoonery and of easy sentiment.”
 
Lady Gregory (whom Úna Clancy plays with a mix of imperiousness and special pleading) went on to foster up-and-comers such as Sean O’Casey, all the while penning a score of plays herself, none of which earned her a permanent spot in the canon. Unfortunately, the two works of hers enfolded into this bio-play do precisely what she deplored: They make sport of the shenanigans of ignorant peasants.
 
Director/adaptor Ciarán O’Reilly coyly ascribes the present script to Lady Gregory herself, taking credit only for “additional material,” when clearly he has written the bulk of the text, while taking great liberties in the framing – adding, for instance, cutesy allusions to employing “contemporary parlance,” such as Lady G’s professed intent, from the outset, to “control the narrative.”
 
Three other Irish Rep regulars are called upon to flesh out this adulatory portrait, which, like many plays of its ilk, does little to expand upon the bullet points of a Wikipedia profile. The proceedings perk up briefly when Terry Donnelly portrays a bellicose rival benefactress whom Lady G disdains as a “vulgar” teabag heiress. Another welcome diversion: the samples of Lady G’s “barmbrack” (currant cake) passed around at intermission.