Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1988. It was still divided with continuing turmoil between Irish Catholic nationalists (here represented by the Donaghy family) and British Protestant unionists (the Andrews family). Such is the backdrop for Graham Reid’s searing dysfunctional family drama Remembrance, which boasts an outstanding cast and excellent direction from Tim Byron Owen at Theatre 40. In spite of its 3 hour length, Remembrance is enjoyable dramatic fare, sprinkled with a heavy amount of Irish humor.
The play’s universality is reflected in a sweet late-in-life love affair which occurs when the Donaghy mother Theresa (Diana Angelina) falls in love with the Andrews father Bert (Mik Scriba). Both of their spouses are deceased and each has a deceased son recently murdered as a result of civil war brutality. In fact, their initial meeting occurs in the cemetery as each visits his (her) son’s grave. Considering their ages – he is 68, she 63 – and their diverse political loyalties, a relationship seems impossible. Theresa has two daughters Joan (Alice Cutler), a former nurse who has been on the verge of a nervous breakdown since her brother’s death and Deirdre (Christine Joelle), with two children of her own. Deirdre’s husband is a soldier with the IRA, currently imprisoned. Bert has a son Victor (Johnny O’Callaghan), an English policeman, who is about to leave his wife Jenny (Elizabeth Lande) who still comes in to clean Bert’s house and help with his meals. Personal tensions/unhappiness are high in both families, and when Theresa finally owns up to an attraction to Bert, her daughters show their selfishness, as they refuse to accept that their mother might be longing for some happiness of her own. And as it becomes clear that he is Protestant and English, Joan and Deirdre are intolerant, as is Victor when he meets Theresa, making fun of her Catholicism, calling her ‘Mother Theresa’. It is a ‘no win’ situation for Bert and Theresa, as each remains faithful to his (her) children and their problems, diminishing the priority of their own need for love and companionship. It is ultimately sad in the end, as Bert and Theresa only communicate through writing letters. Each lives alone, as the children move off: Joan and Deirdre to make a new life in England, Victor, to the arms of another woman. Even though the audience root for Theresa and Bert to be together, it is not meant to be. Sad to us, but the solitary existence seems to suit the strong, independent Irish, especially the elders who tend not to rage, but accept gracefully their isolation and limitations.
Under Owen’s consistently smooth hand, the acting ensemble are equally fine. Angelina is a standout as Theresa, who is particularly affecting as she makes up for a date with Bert, only to receive rejection and verbal abuse from her needy daughter Joan. Angelina really makes us feel for Theresa and her repressed loneliness. O’Callaghan is also moving as the bold womanizing cop, who crumbles into a drunken, whimpering sap as he faces life without his wife’s care. O’Callaghan soars in his dramatic scenes with Bert and Jenny, showing great versatility in conveying Victor’s incorrigible complexities. Cutler and Joelle nicely affect the daughters’ individual rage and Lande plays the strong, suffering wife to the max. Scriba plays the calm quiet Bert with gentleness and has his finest moments in his touching monologue about how to deal with son Victor. Jeff G. Rack again supplies a terrific set of the two very different kitchens with the ivy-walled cemetery in between.
Graham Reid has constructed some lovely scenes which play out in a nicely riveting dramatic fashion, but the play is much too long. In spite of this, Remembrance will move you with its unique Irish ways, especially the stubbornness of the characters whose built-in humor makes survival tolerable.