Winner - Rebecca Marcotte - Best Lead Performance,
Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle
Nominated - Best Ensemble, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle
Winner - Best Ensemble - LA Weekly Awards
Nominated - Best Production - LA Weekly Awards
Nominated - Best Supporting Performance - Amanda Deibert - LA Weekly Awards
Honorable Mention - Best Scenic Design - Arthur MacBride - Back Stage West
Honorable Mention - Best Sound Design - Declan Doherty - Back Stage West
Honorable Mentions (x2) - Best Director - Sean Branney - Back Stage West
Tough Women Caught in Holy War
"The Troubles" may be on the wane, but tell that to the paramilitary organizations still embedded in the lives of the working-class Irish. In Gary Mitchell's disturbing "Loyal Women," now receiving its U.S. premiere at Theatre Banshee, fidelity to the cause -- in this case the Protestants of Northern Ireland -- comes at a very grim price.
In a tough Belfast neighborhood, Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte) tries to juggle a set of impossible demands: a bedridden mother-in-law (Rebecca Wackler); a mouthy teenage daughter (Amanda Deibert) with a baby she can't be bothered with; and an estranged husband (Dan Conroy) just freed after 16 years in prison. Then there's the Women's Ulster Defence Assn., who draft Brenda into taking a larger role in their (dis)organization -- which can mean anything from collecting dues to torturing neighborhood girls who dare to date Catholics.
Mitchell, a Loyalist playwright living in Belfast, has been pilloried for his critical views of militia groups and remains in hiding after mobs attacked his home and firebombed his car. That sense of being under siege charges this messy, belligerent play, and it leads with its chin in a way that few contemporary American works even approach. Director Sean Branney impressively pushes his largely female cast toward an aggression that Hollywood allows only male antiheroes like Jack Bauer and Vic Mackey.
Yet the play's language, like the setting, is resolutely prosaic, so the onus falls on the actors to build theatricality out of sheer kinetic and emotional intensity. But "Loyal Women's" confrontations are so technically demanding that the cast has yet to get a hold on Mitchell's material. This show will get better as the run goes on, and deserves an audience to watch it come into its own. Despite its flaws, "Loyal Women" is the kind of bold programming that makes Theatre Banshee one of L.A.'s more intriguing intimate theaters.
Reviewed by Charlotte Stoudt for the Los Angeles Times
There have been many plays and stories about the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland, but now Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell tells the story from the Protestant side, suggesting along the way that any cause, however glorious, can provide a pretext for indulging personal resentments, hatreds, and cruelties.
Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte) seems to be in for a difficult Christmas. Saddled with caring for her ailing, semi-senile mother-in-law, Rita (Rebecca Wackler), Brenda's also got her hands full with her rebellious, resentful teenage daughter, Jenny (Amanda Deibert) -- and she's fending off her estranged jailbird husband, Terry (Dan Conroy), whom she threw out of the house when he had an extramarital fling with neighbor Heather (McKerrin Kelly). He keeps coming around, wanting to be "a family" again -- and pocketing any cash he can find on the premises. To make matters worse, the women's Protestant paramilitary organization Brenda belongs to is giving her an unwanted promotion and too many responsibilities.
As the convoluted plot unfolds, we learn that Terry spent 16 years in prison for murder, but there are hints that he took the fall for someone else. We can't escape the suspicion that the murderer may have been Brenda -- but if that's the case, why does she show so little gratitude toward her husband? When the paramilitary women put Brenda in the position of having to discipline a neighbor girl (Lisa Dobbyn) who's been bringing a Catholic boyfriend into the neighborhood, the stage is set for violence.
Mitchell's gripping, tightly wound drama turns a sharp eye on family stresses and the overlapping of political and personal aims, and director Sean Branney gives it a faithful rendering. Marcotte illuminates Brenda's vulnerabilities but reveals the steely strength that keeps her going. Wackler captures the wiliness beneath Rita's seeming obliviousness, and Conroy effectively sketches Terry's unreliable charm, but Barry Lynch seems underused as a neighbor with a crush on Brenda. Deibert neatly defines Jenny's willful petulance, while Casey Kramer, Josie DiVincenzo, and Kelly demonstrate the ruthlessness and lurking violence of the paramilitary women.
Reviewed by Neal Weaver for Back Stage West
Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell takes us on an unsentimental tour of the “other” Ireland seldom glimpsed in theater one that is Protestant and deeply loyal to Queen and Country. His play is set in a working-class neighborhood during a Christmas season. It begins shortly after Terry (Dan Conroy), who has served 16 years in prison for a politically motivated murder, returns to his wife, Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte), and to a Northern Ireland that is tenuously embracing a new era of reconciliation. Brenda, however, will have nothing to do with this blustering, unfaithful layabout, whose arrival coincides with new demands being made upon her by her superiors in the Ulster Defense Association the Protestant counterpart of the IRA. Brenda is further put upon by Terry’s nagging invalid mother (Rebecca Wackler); a shrilly combative, unwed mother of a daughter (Amanda Deibert); and an amorous handyman (Barry Lynch). While Act 1 keeps us riveted by its unforgiving milieu and by the ax swings of angry dialogue, Act 2 is the place where Mitchell suddenly feels he needs to cut the color and start throwing in plot devices and character motivations. This abrupt change in tack doesn’t ruin the story by any means, but the concentration of conflict and confrontations makes the second half seem a bit overheated. Director Sean Branney gets strong and convincing performances from his actors, all of whom flawlessly handle their accents.
Reviewed by Steven Mikulan for LA Weekly
For those who thought violence in Northern Ireland had ended, a dirty little secret is spilled by one of the region's most renowned playwrights, Gary Mitchell. His play Loyal Women has sent him and his family into hiding under British government protection.
The play is in the home of Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte) who lives set in present day Rathcoole, a small blue-collar neighborhood. She's a woman of the sandwich generation, whose house is crowded with her elderly ailing mother-in-law, Rita (Rebecca Wackler) and her angry teen-age daughter Jenny (Amanda Deibert) with her baby. There are also some unwanted visitors: her husband Terry (Dan Conroy), just released from a 16-year prison term for murder and members of the women's paramilitary organization, an auxiliary of the Ulster Defense Association (UDA). The UDA auxiliary is led by Branch Head Maureen (Casey Kramer), a soft-spoken authoritative woman, Gail (Josie DiVincenzo, a stunning menacing beauty, and Heather (McKerrin Kelly), a psychotic sadist who salivates watching torture and, even more, inflicting it. The only person Brenda likes to see, but doesn't have much time for, is Mark (Barry Lynch), a big, shambling man who loves her deeply.
Her violent reaction to Terry's return is seemingly instigated by his one-night stand with Heather and her life is further complicated by her enforced election to replace Maureen as new head of the women's auxiliary. The men of the UDA, who really call the shots, want a more civilized face than the fierce Gail, who can't separate herself from Heather. The two of them swagger around like Mafiosos which may be part of the problem.
Mitchell's picture of this crowded three-generational house provides a realistic background to the women's actions, decreed by the UDA. They're to punish young Adele (Lisa Dobbyn) for having a Catholic boyfriend.
Under Sean Branney's direction, the excellent cast keeps the action so riveting and suspenseful that it overcomes a few of the more melodramatic and questionable plot twists. Although it's true that the poverty of such small towns as Rathcoole perpetuates the violence that makes superheroes of people who would have no status or money otherwise, it seems unlikely that Brenda believes Terry went to prison, not to protect her, but to escape from a house full of women.
Mitchell successfully builds to the real tragedy of the play as Brenda, who has transformed herself from a violent willing soldier into a caring sensible woman, finds herself in a stunning climax not an inch away from the horrors of home. Rebecca Marcotte finds the strength and femininity of Brenda, whose love for her infant granddaughter and care for her aged mother-in-law and difficult daughter, make her a natural leader, trusted by the community. Delbert proves herself an actress of great resources, ranging from Jenny's fury and frustration to a childlike eagerness for her father's love and desire to belong to the women's club. As Heather, McKerrin Kelly is one of the scariest presences to stalk a stage in recent memory. DiVincenzo is mesmerizing and fierce as Gail. Kramer holds the stage with quiet authority as Maureen. Rebecca Wackler, always completely credible, makes Rita a wily old woman who has learned how to get her own way and pull out her strength when she needs to. Dan Conroy radiates the husky charisma that makes Brenda's statement that he was the love of her life believable. Barry Lynch is a lovable presence in a part that doesn't give him much to do.
Brian Danner provided excellent fight choreography on a shabby authentic set designed by Arthur MacBride. For contemporary conflict and drama, this is a play that should not be missed. At the risk of importing angry UDA members, Hollywood should pick up something with so many wonderful parts for women.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock for CurtainUp.com
"Women" Engages from Beginning
The outstanding troupe of Theatre Banshee in Burbank normally serves up lyrical, humorous or wistful Irish plays. The latest production, “Loyal Women” by modern Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell, is a dramatic and welcome departure.
The characters in “Loyal Women” are tough people with hard shells and caustic words. But life has been hard on them in this working-class Protestant neighborhood. Their underground paramilitary world is a far cry from yours and mine, most likely. Yet the actors and their director, Sean Branney, create a world that is thoroughly engaging from beginning to end.
The play revolves around Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte), a woman overwhelmed by her fierce sense of responsibility. She single-handedly looks after her rebellious teenage daughter (realistically portrayed by Amanda Delbert), her daughter’s constantly crying baby, her bed-ridden and somewhat senile mother-in-law (a convincing Rebecca Wackler), her handyman boyfriend (Barry Lynch) and even her cheating husband (Dan Conroy).
On top of all this, Brenda’s got a little sideline gig. She holds meetings of the UDA (Ulster Defense Assn.) at her house, a kind of deadly coffee klatch. The association is an actual paramilitary organization that sprang up in response to the IRA (Irish Republican Army), whose purpose was to defend the rights of Catholics living in Northern Ireland. The association protects the Protestant communities in a similar way, by operating outside the law.
Playwright Gary Mitchell does not condone this vigilante behavior. Instead, he seeks to show how painful and destructive it is to be involved in groups of this kind. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of this play is that viewers can find no one to sympathize with. There is pity for Brenda’s circumstances but she and her colleagues, Gail, Heather and Maureen, are prone to violence, cruelty and bigotry.
All the actors are outstanding but these four women are amazing. Gail (Josie DiVincenzo) is one tough cookie with a severe hairstyle, tight jeans and a chest-jutting stance that begs for a fight. Heather (McKerrin Kelly) is all muscle and sinew, jumping around just itching to “do someone.” And Maureen (Casey Kramer) struts around like a “Sopranos” mob boss with a cool command of the girls. After softly letting Brenda know she will do as she’s told, Maureen silently adjusts her lapel pin. Classic understated power.
The lighting design by Mary O’Sullivan stands out for its complexity and smooth choreography. The set is authentic in its thrift-store chic. At the performance I attended, the actors’ zealous physicality created some problems on the set (e.g., broken door, broken couch) but I only bring it up to point out just how professional the actors are. They worked it all into the script.
And in a way, due to the characters’ violent natures, these sort of things would happen. So kudos to the fight choreographer, Brian Danner. Kudos also to the dialect coach at the Banshee. The actors’ Northern Irish accents are spot on and their lines are delivered at machine-gun-fire pace.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted Irish romp, this may not be the production for you. But for an intense account of daily life in a certain modern-day Belfast neighborhood, one that is well-written, acted and directed, check out “Loyal Women.”
Reviewed by Lisa Dupuy for The Burbank Leader/News Press
A stronger sense of flesh-and-blood females permeates Gary Mitchell’s Loyal Women with an emphasis on the blood. The blighted residents of Belfast in this U.S. premiere at Theatre Banshee are a tough crew a sort of women’s auxiliary of a Protestant paramilitary outfit. One of them, Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte) wants to extricate herself from the group, but they keep … pulling her back in, in Godfather terms.
Brenda’s already taking care of her batty mother-in-law, her teenaged daughter and the girl’s baby, while also coping with her ex-con, philandering husband and a would-be beau. Yet now she must also host teatimes where painfully funny prayers precede discussions about the possibility of torturing suspicious neighbors.
The play unsparingly depicts women warring over issues that seem petty at best not that Mitchell spares his male characters from looking foolish, too. But these troubles apparently aren’t so trivial in context last year, Mitchell’s works aroused such ire that his car was firebombed and he took his family into hiding.
Sean Branney’s staging and Marcotte’s performance depict the weariness that can settle over political activists after years in the trenches. But the energy of Loyal Women itself never flags. It’s hard to recall a production where women brawled this vigorously without wearing roller skates or where women who are loyal to their country and their culture acted with such brazen disloyalty to each other.
Reviewed by Don Shirley for LA City Beat
Two Bleak Tales Told in Regional Accents
The cops never arrive in Gary Mitchell’s taut political melodrama, Loyal Women (Theatre Banshee), suggesting an anarchic universe in which individuals must police their own souls. The setting, in other words, is contemporary Belfast, where Mitchell offers an unsentimental tour of the “other” Ireland seldom glimpsed in theater that of Protestant Northerners, living during the new, uneasy peace, who feel besieged by Catholics and abandoned by the Queen and Country to which they’ve been so loyal. The moral center is Brenda (Rebecca Marcotte), a working-class mother and member of the Ulster Defense Association, the Protestant counterpart of the IRA.
It’s Christmas season, and her husband, Terry (Dan Conroy), has recently been released from prison after serving 16 years for murdering a Catholic woman. Brenda won’t have anything to do with him, however seems that after leaving the slammer he made a beeline for the first skirt he saw, which happened to be worn by Heather (McKerrin Kelly), a volatile member of Brenda's UDA women’s auxiliary. This is one reason Brenda wants to quit the group. Another is because her cohorts insist she help tar and feather a fellow Protestant, Adele (Lisa Dobbyn), for having a Catholic boyfriend.
Act 1 is preoccupied with Brenda's harsh milieu, which Mitchell establishes in vivid brushstrokes. His characters are not the melodic, dreamy Catholics who people Brian Friel’s plays, but an angry, cornered bunch whose threats and laments ring out in a kind of metallic, jagged free verse. It’s a wonder that Brenda doesn’t simply go mute from her own “troubles,” which include caring for Terry’s invalid, semi-Alzheimer’s-touched mother, Rita (Rebecca Wackler), while keeping the lid on her own nail bomb of a daughter, Jenny (Amanda Deibert). (Jenny seems to live solely for rebelling against Brenda, while worshipping Terry.) Jenny is a single mom but treats her baby like an empty pack of cigarettes, fobbing the child off on her mother so she can concentrate (not unlike Rebecca Gilman’s Lisa) on watching television.
BRENDA: Jenny, you’ve done nothing all day.
JENNY: Have I not?
BRENDA: Tell me what you’ve done.
Mitchell amply provides his audience with one of theater’s greatest treats the spectacle of people in trouble. Problems with Loyal Women surface in Act 2, however, when Mitchell, as though sensing he hasn’t set enough plot wheels in motion, tries to pack too many motivations and conflicts into the final 50 minutes. Without giving too much away, I’ll note that Brenda must make the play’s Big Decision because of some missing UDA money and, until this matter is resolved, cannot obtain her freedom from the group. (“They keep pulling me back in!” you can almost read in her thought balloon.) In order to sustain this potboiler twist, Mitchell must have mentally infirm Rita momentarily regain her senses an unconvincing development at best.
This Theatre Banshee production, ably directed by Sean Branney, remains a powerful evening nonetheless, and Branney is blessed with a committed cast whose members handle their Irish accents with breathtaking ease never a small achievement in small theater. The Act 2 confrontation between the UDA women and Adele is especially nerve-racking and no punches are pulled. Both Marcotte and Deibert stand out as family members locked in mortal combat, very much like their countrymen and women. My one quibble with this staging is that costumer Laura Brody might have clothed the actors more warmly. The play is set, after all, at Christmastime in Northern Ireland, yet most of the characters breeze in and out of Rebecca’s home looking as though they’re dressed for an afternoon of shopping in Laguna.
Feature by Steven Mikulan for the LA Weekly
Best Theatre of 2007 (11 shows on list)
2. Loyal Women, Theatre Banshee (Burbank). A topflight ensemble under Sean Branney’s direction gave Gary Mitchell’s grimly amusing drama its propulsion. This was a story of women set in a Protestant enclave in Northern Ireland, where the tyrannies of the local UDA Women’s Auxiliary such as forbidding a romance between young Adele (Lisa Dobbyn) and her Catholic beau make the horrors of our local homeowners associations (take down that basketball hoop from your garage!) seem benign.
by Steven Leigh Morris for the LA Weekly