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Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan’s new romantic history Wild Sky observes the centennial of the Easter Rising, the six-day rebellion in Dublin and surrounding counties in late April 1916. British forces quelled the revolt with overwhelming man- and firepower, literally bringing a gunboat to a gunfight. But it remains a culturally significant occasion in Ireland, one Kinahan interprets through the eyes of two young, poor, rural Irish—Josie (Megan Graves) and Tom (Dylan Morrison Myers)—each moved to join the cause for their own reasons. They’re rarely given scenes together, instead performing interlocking monologues. Four other performers comprise an “Irish chorus,” to use director/chorus member Rex Daugherty’s phrase, offering traditional musical accompaniment for voice, drum, and strings. (Michael Winch and Aaron Bliden directed the music.)
Taking a cue from Kinahan’s personal-is-political M.O., Daugherty is staging the show in two private homes in Dupont Circle and Mount Pleasant, erasing the barriers that typically separate the performers from the audience. The marriage of form and content is a happy one. Set designer Paige Hathaway has covered a simple table in pasted copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It looks like the only piece of furniture that wasn’t in the house before someone decided to put on a play there. The set choice cleverly embodies the idea of ordinary people bringing ideology into their lives like an accessory, another examination of how witnesses become radicalized into revolutionaries.
Graves is especially compelling as an apolitical shopgirl enticed by the prospect of building a government that would afford women the legal rights men enjoyed. She’s long been infatuated with a boy from her village who believes he can advance the cause of Irish independence by enlisting in the British Army, then being ground up by the hundreds of thousands on the Western Front against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Kinahan, whose contemporary family drama Moment just wrapped up a celebrated run at Studio Theatre, does a fine job of distilling the churn of history down to intimate scale.
The smaller but more cheerful occasion this Wild Sky marks is the return of Solas Nua, the D.C.-based contemporary Irish theater company that has, with the exception of readings and film screenings and such, largely been on hiatus since 2011. Daugherty, who co-starred with Madeleine Carr in Solas Nua’s well-reviewed Off-Broadway production of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs seven years ago, has now taken the reigns of the company that built a reputation for compact but powerful work—and for grand experiments, like their 2011 production of Swampoodle in the cavernous Uline Arena. Wild Sky combines the company’s yen for intimate material and unconventional spaces. It’s a sad story from group of artists I’m happy we’ve gotten back.
Various locations. $37.74. (202) 315-1317. solasnua.org.