"The Dead" (Court Theatre): Irish Awakening Enchants

"The Dead" (Court Theatre):  Irish Awakening Enchants

Court Theatre presents THE DEAD.  The Morkans are having a party.  It’s 1904 in Dublin, Ireland.  To celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, Miss Julia and Miss Kate, along with their niece Mary Jane, throw their annual soiree.  The coveted invitation gathers friends and family to an evening of music.  The sisters encourage guests to express themselves in song and dance. As the neighbor downstairs shows his irritation, the revelers celebrate life by waking the dead. Some songs are playful.  Some songs are nostalgic.  Some songs are heart-wrenching. All the songs are personal inspirations.  THE DEAD is an Irish awakening.  Enchanting!

On the surface, James Joyce’s short story is showcased as a light-hearted Irish revue.  Below the homespun holiday cheer, profound contemplations simmer.  Between and during songs, party guests grapple with unrequited love, a wasted life and their own mortality.  Director Charles Newell keeps the festivities lively and the reflections subtle.  Newell opens the door into these lives-in-progress and gives us an intimate peek.  We easily see the adoration of the hostesses and the jovial camaraderie of the visitors. This definitely has all the makings of a party!   It’s the unspoken flirtation, casual movement and knowing glances between the cast that gives this party unexpected personality within a very private space.  The activity seems spontaneous not rehearsed. I’m not a fly on the wall.  I’m actually sitting in the room surrounded by friends… that can sing… and beautifully!     

Under the musical direction of Doug Peck, this cast is grand altogether!  They captivate with singing, dancing and playing. The party attendees pick up instruments as naturally as an appetizer.  They fiddle, strum, and drum right on stage. Peck, with his back to the audience, expertly orchestrates the musical interludes from his piano.  The entire cast set the mood for superb entertainment.  A few standouts among the outstanding, the lovely Mary Ernster (Julia) holds court as the aging matriarch full of moxie.  An initially reserved Susie McMonagle (Gretta) ends up haunting the stage.  Simultaneously, McMonagle connects with the audience and detaches from the party.  Her bittersweet ballad is unforgettable.   Another quieter guest is pushed into the spotlight and becomes a showstopper.  J. Michael Finley (D’Arcy) delivers a goose bump inducing aria. 

I loved this show.  It’s how I imagine partying with my ancestors would be.  Before holidays of texting and television, relatives entertained each other. Although I’m certain the Walsh ghosts of Christmas pasts weren’t as talented as this Court cast, experiencing this show connected me to my own dead.

Running Time:  One hundred minutes with no intermission

At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue

Based on the short story “The Dead” by James Joyce

Book by Richard Nelson 

Music by Shaun Davey 

Lyrics conceived and adapted by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey

Musical direction by Doug Peck

Directed by Charles Newell

Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm

Fridays at 8pm

Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm 

Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:30pm

Thru December 9th 

Buy Tickets at www.courttheatre.org

Production photograph courtesy of Michael Brosilow

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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