Patrick Kennedy is a garrulous alcoholic, his every thought drenched in whisky and Shakespeare. His three daughters — insecure Judith, acerbic Rose and idealistic Maud — are variations on the theme of spinsterhood, each pursuing her own form of escape.
In other words, a stereotypical broken Irish family.
Ah, but wait. All is not exactly as it seems here in County Sligo. In The Night Season, the young British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz flirts with the tropes of Irish drama, inhabiting and upending in equal measure.
This month, Washington University’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present The Night Season for five performances in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre.
“It’s a beautiful play and the finest kind of comedy,” says director William Whitaker, senior lecturer in drama. “It speaks to both the dream and the reality of family. Sometimes, the truest, most wonderful things are right there in front of you.”
The Night Season
Set in Sligo, former stomping grounds to William Butler Yeats, the story opens with the three sisters commiserating as they crowd into a single bedroom. Lily, their cantankerous maternal grandmother, sleeps below in the living room while Patrick lies drunk on his bed.
Unlucky in love, the sisters dream of life in London, where their mother, Esther, fled 15 years before. Judith, the oldest child, has become Esther’s surrogate but chafes beneath the responsibilities. Maud, the youngest, is stuck in a relationship with a humorless would-be communist. Rose, the rebellious middle child, leaps into bed with John, a handsome young actor preparing for the lead role in a Yeats bio-pic.
“As in any good Irish play, when a stranger arrives, everything goes haywire,” Whitaker says. “All three sisters begin examining their lives and questioning their choices.
“But just when you think it’s going to become an ‘Irish play,’ that it will get reflective and serious and melancholic, with potatoes and suffering and all that, Rebecca Lenkiewicz knocks you back,” Whitaker says.
“It’s a great family story, but not at all sentimental. It’s bracingly direct.”
Written in 2004, The Night Season is Lenkiewicz’s second play. She first came to public attention in 2000, after winning an Edinburgh Fringe First award for Soho: A Tale of Table Dancers. Subsequent works include Shoreditch Madonna (2005), The Soldier’s Tale (2006) and an adaption of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (2008).
In 2008, Lenkiewicz’s Her Naked Skin became the first work by a living female playwright to be performed on the Olivier Stage of London’s Royal National Theatre.
“Lenkiewicz is one of the UK’s most promising, up-and-coming playwrights,” says Whitaker, who first saw The Night Season in 2004, while teaching in the PAD summer program at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
“We’re always looking for plays with great roles for women,” Whitaker adds. “This one has four, along with three formidable roles for men.
“Each part is compelling and essential to the story.”
Cast and crew
The cast of 7 is led by junior Will Jacobs as Patrick, senior Phoebe Richards as Lily, and senior Rose Werth, sophomore Kiki Milner and sophomore Kaitlyn Jeanneret as Judith, Rose and Maud.
Rounding out the cast are juniors Charles Morris as John, the would-be Yeats, and Connor McEvoy as Gary Malone, Judith’s former beau.
Set design is by Rob Morgan, senior lecturer in drama. Costumes are by junior Laura Desch. Properties and scenic painting are by Emily Frei.
Lighting and sound are by juniors Alex Francisci and Simeng Zhu, respectively.
The Night Season begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15, 16 and 17; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17 and 18. The A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543.