Modern Irish Tragedy

By the Bog of Cats, by Marina Carr

At UCSB’s Hatlen Theatre, Saturday, March 4. Shows through March 11.

You have got to love those Irish accents. Notoriously tricky, the Celtic twang is memorably — and professionally — brought to life by the student actors of UCSB’s winter main-stage production, Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats.

Bog is a retelling of Euripides’s classic woman-wronged tragedy, Medea. The action has been moved from ancient Greece to modern-day Ireland, where Hester Swane (played by Nancy Finn) is unceremoniously dumped and put out to pasture by Carthage Kilbride (Zach Appelman), her husband of 14 years. Desperate, Hester exacts revenge by killing the one person her callous ex-spouse loves deeply — their daughter, Josie (Jessie Sherman).

The plot — as always — is wrenching, and Finn, a doctoral candidate in the university’s PhD program, taps into Hester’s pain in such a way that her audience feels sorry for the character, even as she slits her child’s throat. The playboy ex-husband and his new young bride could easily be interpreted as pure villains, but Appelman and Amy Gumenick lend depth and humanity to their underdeveloped roles. Sherman brings Josie’s innocence to life, and there’s a fine turn by Katie Buoye as the Catwoman, a local homeless legend. Dressed like a poor man’s Grizabella from the musical Cats, Buoye is sporadic comic relief in this doozy of a play.

Carr’s work, first performed at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1998, is powerful but flawed. Several scenes stretch too long, which lessens the dramatic tension. Judith Olauson’s production is over-directed. I could have lived without Hester’s lengthy, pre-suicide interpretive dance, and the billows of stage fog that hover throughout — intended to lend an air of creepiness to the proceedings — succeed only in making the Bog of Cats look like it’s on fire.

Still, Carr’s work packs a dramatic punch, and Olauson’s actors are hardworking and talented. Fans of both classical and modern tragedies should pay a visit to the Hatlen. ■

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