REVIEW: The Pond Theatre Company presents “The Naturalists”

REVIEW: The Pond Theatre Company presents “The Naturalists”

 
 John Keating, Sarah Street, Tim Ruddy. Photo Credit: Richard Termine.

John Keating, Sarah Street, Tim Ruddy. Photo Credit: Richard Termine.

 

The Pond Theatre Company was founded in 2016 to provide a base in the United States for world premiere productions of plays by contemporary Irish and British playwrights who are often overlooked on our side of “the pond”.  This female led theatre company’s third production, “The Naturalists” by Irish playwright Jaki McCarrick, opened on September 12th at Walkerspace in SoHo.

Set in County Monaghan, Ireland on the border with Northern Ireland, Ms. McCarrick’s play offers an intimate look at the quiet, daily lives of two scrappy brothers, Francis (John Keating) and Billy (Tim Ruddy), who’ve lived in a messy mobile home isolated on the 90 acres of their estranged mother’s land that they have farmed for 18 years while the main house remains an unfinished project.

As act one unfolds, scars of the past are revealed, prompted by the arrival of Josie (Sarah Street, a company co-founder) a modern dancer who picks up a job cleaning and cooking for the brothers (they need it).  Francis, a gentle soul and “naturalist”, spent 12 years in prison for his involvement in a deadly bombing during the height of “The Troubles”.  Billy left college to care for their mother during Francis’ sentence, and now they live together, an “Irish cliché”. 

Perhaps unsurprising given the title, the play is striking for its naturalism.  Ms. McCarrick’s characters, especially as performed by this outstanding, all-Irish born leading trio, are painfully real and captivating to observe.  Not much happens over the course of act one, which, like in “The Band’s Visit”, provides a gorgeous window into the quiet beauty of ordinary life and the unexpected ways in which human beings can impact each other.

You won’t find a better acted suite of scenes on any New York stage than the ones here.  At several moments during act one I had to stop myself to remember that I was, in fact, watching a play.  Chika Shimizu’s pitch perfect set, consisting of a hyper-realistic cross-section of the brothers’ mobile home, helps, too.

 
 Michael Mellamphy, Tim Ruddy, John Keating, Sarah Street. Photo Credit: Richard Termine.

Michael Mellamphy, Tim Ruddy, John Keating, Sarah Street. Photo Credit: Richard Termine.

 

While echoes of The Troubles serve as a backdrop subtly introduced in act one, the arrival of would-be-gangster John-Joe (Michael Mellamphy) in act two, an unwelcomed face from the past, signals an abrupt shift in time and tone for the balance of the play that had me longing for the aching simplicity of that first half. 

Without spoiling anything, the play, somewhat regrettably, becomes something else altogether.  A tad long-winded and plagued by jarring scene-change music choices that are far too obvious and incongruous as a score, these faults fade in consideration of the fine performances throughout—under the direction of company founders Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment—and the mastery of Ms. McCarrick’s writing.  This is one burgeoning Off-Broadway company to keep your eyes on.  

Bottom Line: The Pond Theatre Company, dedicated to world premieres of plays by Irish and British writers, presents “The Naturalists” anew play by Irish playwright Jaki McCarrick.  Even though the pace and tone of the piece varies widely from act one to act two, you won’t find a better acted suite of scenes on any New York stage than the ones here.  The Pond is a new theatre company worth keeping your eyes on.

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The Naturalists
The Pond Theatre Company
Walkerspace
46 Walker Street
New York, NY 10013

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: September 12, 2018
Final Performance: September 23, 2018
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