Winner: Back Stage West Garland Award for Best Ensemble
Honorable Mention: Back Stage West for Best Costume Design (Laura Brody)
Reviewplays.com Best of List 2006 - Best Production
Reviewplays.com Best of List 2006 - Best Performance: Leslie Baldwin
Reviews for Theatre Banshee's Eclipsed (2006)
Patricia Burke Brogan’s stunning glimpse into horrid reality is more than just another Irish play; it’s a cunningly sharp attack on some of the dictates of the Catholic Church. The location is an institutional laundry in the fictional town of Killamacha, sometime in the 1960s. The situation, however, is far from fictional. Slaving in the laundry are the “penitents,” women who have “sinned” by having sex outside of marriage, bearing illegitimate children, or being raped. Given up by their families, their seducers, and society, their children adopted or sent to orphanages, they are indentured to the church, according to the rigidly brutal Mother Victoria (a fearfully fine Rebecca Wackler), their chief “warder,” to “protect them from their passion.” The harsh system existed in Ireland for 150 years before it was finally outlawed in 1970; during that period, the women were essentially eclipsed from history.
Rebecca Marcotte is luminescent in an enhanced performance as Nellie Nora, a woman ruined and then scorned. A justifiably bristling Josie Di Vincenzo is implacable as the tough-talking Brigit, who’s replaced her defeat with blind anger and defiance. Leslie Baldwin commands unlimited attention with her superb, and superbly funny-sad, take on Mandy, a simple country girl who has filled her social isolation with a passionately funny adoration of Elvis, rejecting any suggestion that her love might be unrequited. Melissa Jones is heartbreaking as the doomed Cathy, wracked with asthma and a broken heart, who is intent on escape at any cost, however ultimate it might be. Lisa Dobbyn, as Sister Virginia, has an angelic quality that makes her near perfect as the doubting novice, with peace in her face, though none in her soul. Andra Carlson is the innocent 16-year-old Juliet, who admires these despised women and has chosen the laundry over the orphanage.
Sean Branney’s direction highlights the surprising comedy in this dire tragedy, emphasizing the joy inherent in the loving relationships forged among these forsaken women, despite their pain and suffering. It’s a story begging to be told; it was staged by Theatre Banshee in the company’s premiere production in 1995.
Shaun Meredith’s scenic design and Laura Brody’s costumes are unhealthily redolent of the heat, smell, and taste of the incoming dirty laundry and, symbolically, the pristine starch of the washed and ironed ecclesiastical clothing waiting to be donned by the bishop.
Back Stage West, Reviewed by Madeline Shaner
In Ireland, accounts of the so-called Magdalen Laundries (operated by the Catholic Church from the 1840s to the 1970s) were as shocking as the more recent reports of child abuse by the clergy. “Fallen women” (unwed mothers) were involuntarily committed to laundry cages where barred windows separated them from their children and the society outside. They were a captive work force employed by the church to wash the nation’s laundry, presumably along with their sins. Patricia Burke Brogan’s 1991 play, set in 1963, concentrates on the Killmacha laundry, under the aegis of Mother Victoria (Rebecca Wackler), a doctrinaire, authoritarian nun who can make a benediction sound like a curse. She’s assisted by the sensitive, eventually rebellious Sister Virginia (Lisa Dobbyn). Their charges include Mandy (Leslie Baldwin), who dreams of Elvis; bitter Brigit (Josie DiVincenzo); long-suffering Nellie Nora (Rebecca Marcotte); and asthmatic Cathy (Melissa Jones), whose life-threatening condition Mother Victoria refuses to take seriously. There’s humor and gallantry in the efforts of the inmates to keep their spirits up with jokes, pop music and minor rebellions. Director Sean Branney marshals a fine cast with skill, balancing comedy with social criticism.
LA Weekly, Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Fine Acting Eclipses Grim Storyline
Tempering pathos with comedy, Theatre Banshee celebrates its 10th anniversary with its presentation of "Eclipsed," continuing at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank.
Playwright Patricia Burke Brogan's drama, detailing the Catholic Church's treatment of Ireland's unwed mothers between the 1840s and 1970s, exposes a relatively unknown scandal of epic proportions.
During this timeframe, families, and even employers, could commit a woman to a lifetime literally locked away serving as laundry workers for the church. Meanwhile their male counterparts were let off scot-free while any children of such unions were forcibly placed in orphanages. Under the deftly crafted direction of Glendale resident Sean Branney, this briskly played production, set in 1963, boasts a flawlessly talented ensemble of seven women.
As Brigit, the most confrontational of these unwilling slaves, Josie DiVincenzo is remarkable. Her simmering disgust for the nuns, her captors, fuels her drive to escape at all costs. With a calmer voice of resignation, Rebecca Marcotte plays Nellie Nora, whose coping mechanism results in spurring the others into flights of escapist fantasy.
For example, the women stage an elaborately comic wedding between Leslie Baldwin's star-struck character, Mandy, and a mannequin dressed to represent her idol, Elvis Presley. Such sequences briefly transport them from the horrifying reality that this basement setting, designed with perfect drabness by Shaun Meredith, is all they will ever know.
Admirably rounding out the original workhouse contingent is Melissa Jones as Cathy, an asthmatically wracked mother of 6-year-old twins. Her futile attempts to reach them are the epitome of frustration. Added to this mix of women is Andra Carlson playing Juliet, an angelic 17-year-old, now fearful of the outside world, whose own mother passed away in this unhappy place. Her appearance sheds light on the archaically outrageous Roman Catholic tenet that sexual impurity was transferred via the blood from mother to daughter for seven generations.
Rebecca Wackler represents the Church's unyielding attitude as the stiff-backed Mother Victoria. Wackler perfectly embodies a power stemming from an iron will buttressed by a palpable disgust for the women in her charge. Her foil is a novitiate named Sister Virginia, perhaps being groomed to take over the laundry's leadership position. Lisa Dobbyn is amazing as she captures Virginia's inner conflict between her "blind obedience" to the church and her compassion for the plight of these women. Her pitiful pleas for God's help are heart-wrenching.
Laura Brody's costumes are perfectly selected. So, too, are Mary O'Sullivan's multi-layered lighting and Josh Abramson's sound design, consisting of memory-like voice-overs and hauntingly mournful Irish underscoring.
Though frequently quite harsh, this must-see production serves to emphasize that punishment without possibility of mercy is the definition of hopelessness.
News Press, Reviewed by Dink O'Neal
Eclipsed is no whitewash
If a trip to the Laundromat has ever felt like a prison sentence, Theatre Banshee's "Eclipsed" might help keep things in perspective. Patricia Burke Brogan's harrowing drama concerns the Irish Catholic Church's novel solution to the social problem of unwed mothers: stick the children in orphanages and confine the fallen women to laundry duty in church cellars to "wash away their sins" under lock and key for the rest of their lives. These "Magdalene laundry" asylums were nothing less than modern-day slave labor camps (the last one shut down in 1996).
The story of five Magdalene captives and their deep bonds of friendship and loyalty forged amid merciless oppression, "Eclipsed" was the Irish-focused Theatre Banshee's well-received inaugural production. A decade later once again under the direction of company co-founder Sean Branney the revival still packs a considerable emotional punch, despite occasional lapses into melodrama.
Skillful performances differentiate the victimized women particularly effective are Josie DiVincenzo's hot-tempered rebel and Leslie Baldwin's dreamy romantic. Along with their fellow captives (Rebecca Marcotte, Melissa Jones, Andra Carlson), the inmates endure cruelties inflicted by Mother Victoria (Rebecca Wackler, who unfortunately lacks the intensity to make a formidable antagonist).
As a thinly veiled stand-in for the author (a former novitiate who witnessed the Magdalene atrocities first-hand), Lisa Dobbyn is sympathetic though tragically passive. With this play, Brogan was clearly working through some of her own guilt, which at times erupts in hyperbolic confrontations. She also tends toward formulaic plotting, but at her best, she records with clinical accuracy the real-world horrors inflicted on innocent victims, and the scraps of joy and laughter they somehow managed to snatch from under the noses of their captors.
Los Angeles Times, Reviewed by Philip Brandes
***Pick of the Week***
The moon is said to be eclipsed when the shadow of our earth passes over it, hiding the luminous reflection that has been the inspiration for hundreds of stories, songs, poems and love sonnets. Patricia Burke Brogan’s remarkable play takes it’s name from that natural phenomenon as she creates a story depicting the literal enslaving of women by the Church for having broken the sixth and ninth commandments, placing them in a convent where they had to wash the church’s dirty laundry without ever being allowed to leave, a symbolic blocking of light which by extension, deprives them of life.
Based on actual events, the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, which existed from the 1940’s as late as the mid 1990’s (as reported by 60 Minutes), actually incarcerated unwed mothers after their children were taken from them to be placed in orphanages. The women would be sent to church-run laundries where they would spend the rest of their life in penitent prayer and forced labor, supposedly washing their sins away, never allowed to leave or to see their children. The proceeds of their work supposedly paid for their room and board and the nuns kept the rest for their own projects.
Theatre Banshee takes on the challenge of telling this story which takes place under the rule of the hypocritical and tyrannical Mother Victoria. The story examines the plight of five women who try to make the best of their situation by engaging in fantasies about Elvis Presley or about leaving their prison. Shaun Meredith built an incredibly constraining scenic design of a cement basement in the convent where the women try to find normalcy between huge loads of incoming laundry and the demands of the nuns. You feel the tension and the stress, even while they try to find moments of laughter.
From the feisty and spirited Brigit to the more complacent Nellie Nora, the common bond among them is the longing for their children and the realization that they are to stay there for the rest of their life. Cathy tries to escape, but is found and beaten by the Mother Superior, and even though Sister Virginia, a novitiate is sympathetic to their plight, there is little she can do to challenge Mother Victoria.
All the performances are easily the most heartfelt and sincere seen this year in any play, and as the story unfolds, one is swept into the agonizing hopelessness of the characters. Rebecca Wackler makes Mother Victoria an amazingly odious tyrant, bringing to life all the stereotypical images of the so called “strict nuns”. When Leslie Baldwin’s Mandy goes through a mock wedding with a clothes mannequin pretending he is Elvis, the sold out audience had a collective lump in the throat as laughter and tears fought for equal time in one of the most moving scenes of the play.
Josie DiVincenzo is wonderful as Brigit and Rebecca Marcotte brings a wonderful sense of acceptance to Nellie Nora. When Melissa Jones as Cathy, decides to escape the convent, you almost hope she won’t succeed as her delicate frailty is a sure sign of impending danger. Andra Carlson brings a wonderful innocence and naiveté to Juliet, a young teen-age orphan who is brought into the laundry and who has never been outside the orphanage or the convent.
Lisa Dobbyn plays Sister Victoria, a novitiate torn between the vow of total obedience and her own sense of morality. Dobbyn is marvelous as she brings a hesitation to her feelings for the welfare of the women and her acceptance of the Mother Superior’s unyielding iron fisted rule. Sean Branney directs this magnificent work with sensitivity and style, bringing to life a story that has seldom been told, but needs to have much more exposure to prevent similar atrocities from repeating. He manages to reach into the souls of the characters, allowing them to express their innermost desires and fears, allowing us to laugh at some of their actions but never infringing on their dignity or humanity.
Circa 450 B.C., Plato told of a parable of a cave, where men were chained and only saw shadows on the wall of the cave thinking this was reality. When given a chance to leave their cave and discover the outside world, they not only rejected the opportunity to discover the unknown; they re-chained themselves, preferring to stay in the comfort of the familiar, even though it was constricting and imprisoning. In this play, the women are given the same opportunity in an act of defiance by Sister Virginia, only to discover that the world Plato described has not changed all that much in the couple of thousand years that have transpired.
Reviewed by José Ruiz for ReviewPlays.com
Eclipsed - Variety
Theater Banshee's 10th-anniversary production of the play it started out with, Patricia Burke Brogan's "Eclipsed," is an affecting drama with deeply felt perfs that serves as a testimonial to the consistently superb quality of this company's work. Although the setting is a grim institutional laundry room, director Sean Branney deftly uses light, music and motion to represent the vivid dreams of the characters, women whose dreams are all they have left. The all-female cast is terrific, presenting not only the pathos of the situation but also humor and desperate vitality.
"Work is God here," says Brigit (Josie DiVincenzo), an unwilling prisoner of Ireland's Magdalene laundries, a Catholic Church-administered system wherein unwed mothers were turned into slaves, held under lock and key for the rest of their lives.
Brigit burns with righteous fury at her predicament and wants to escape to see her child. Mandy (Leslie Baldwin) wants to leave so she can be with her one true love, Elvis Presley. Nellie Nora (Rebecca Marcotte) is more accepting of her fate, going through men's jackets to smoke the cigarettes they've left behind.
Sister Virginia (Lisa Dobbyn) sees the hideous unfairness of these women's lives but can't decide whether she should follow her morality or the edicts of her church.
DiVincenzo steals the show with her exhilarating perfperf, whether she's goofily mocking the head nun or gleefully envisioning sending men down into hell. She captures Brigit's core of sizzling rage, and she is the indignant heart of the show.
Baldwin impressively channels the unfortunate Mandy, from her blissful love of the King to an abyss of black depression at the thought that her dream will never come true.
Marcotte is subtle and nuanced as the kind Nellie Nora, and Dobbyn is effective as the young woman torn between her habit and her heart.
Rebecca Wackler, Melissa Jones and Andra Carlson complete the sterling ensemble.
Shaun Meredith's well-wrought set is a drearily authentic evocation of a basement laundry room with stained walls, hanging pipes and industrial lamps. Mary O'Sullivan's inventive lighting design morphs in a moment to suit the need, from upbeat fantasy sequences to a fiery vision of Hades.