Bairbre (Brenda Meaney) has a secret. On the surface, she’s the perfect fiance for Tom Grealish (Jesse Pennington) who is introducing his soon-to-be bride to his father, Martin (Con Horgan). Unbeknownst to Tom, his father and Bairbre share a past.
This makes for a literal and figurative slow burn in Micheál Mac Liammóir’s The Mountains Look Different, a 1948 play that raised the ire of theatergoers upon its original premiere at Ireland’s Gate theatre.
Under the direction of Aidan Redmond, this classic gem has been revived by the Mint Theater Company. In less capable hands, it could trudge along at a lethargic pace. Yet Redmond–along with his terrific cast–have created a rapt production that grabs audiences and pulls them into a fascinating journey. Considering that many of these works were written in a time when attention spans were longer and sensibilities were different, this is no simple feat.
From the moment Meaney enters, she conjures urgent curiosity. Who is she? Who was she? An awkward interaction with Bartley (Daniel Marconi), a farmhand, suggests that she is desperate to escape her former life in London and will do anything for self-preservation. Meaney delivers a captivating performance as she toggles the line between grit and vulnerability.
In a large way, Mac Liammóir’s work mirrors Greek tragedy. Granted, Aeschylus and his contemporaries left more carnage than those on this Irish mountainside. Still, there is a hyperbolic quality here that cannot be denied.
The themes of desperation and living with secrets are also explored. Upon reading program notes, these themes resonated with the playwright’s own life. To begin with, he was born in London as Alfred Willmore. Only later in life did he adopt an Irish persona and change his name. He was also gay in a place and time that was not accepting of homosexuality.
This fine ensemble has managed to mine the compassion and understanding that far too often is lost to contempt and judgment. The mountains can, in fact, look different when humanity prevails.
Mint Theater Company’s The Mountains Look Different runs through July 14th at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street). For tickets and information, visit the box office or click here.