Lay Me Down Softly

seanachai theatre

By Billy Roche

Directed by Kevin Christopher Fox

Produced by Seanachai Theatre Company

At The Den, Chicago

Gritty Irish drama hits it’s way

Seanachai Theatre Company specialized in mounting Irish works and after the success of the fabulous The Seafarer they continue their season with Billy Roche’s Lay Me Down Softly. This gritty drama features a group of itinerant carnival folks that travel the small Irish town in the 1960’s, Delaney’s Traveling Roadshow uses tents to house their attractions that include bumper cars, bearded ladies, a rifle range and their main attraction – the boxing ring. The Roadshow invites all comers to fight to win a prize.

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The cocky Dean (Matthew Isler)  is the confident pugilist featured in their bouts. Junior (Dan Wailer) is the troupe’s handyman and sometimes fighter. Led by Theo (Jeff Christian), the iron fisted and micromanager, Roadshow is Theo’s proud attraction and top money maker. His trusted sidekick and cut man, Peadwr (Michael Grant) keeps things together as the troupe struggles to makes their way in the rural area sideshow business. The arrival of Theo’s estranged and abandoned daughter, herself a runaway, Emer (Jamie L. Young) is the catapult for the back stories that fuels the play. We hear from Lily (Carolyn Klein) Thoe’s ticket seller and mistress.

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Lay Me Down Softly is essentially a memory play centered around the patchwork family of Roadshow. The action and metaphors are sports references and the on-going boxing matches. We see how hope and dreams were stiffed as this group laments through melancholy their lost dreams. Each character depends on the Roadshow family for sustenance, companionship, and recognition.

The work depends on several well written and expertly acted monologues as Theo tells his daughter how he meet Emer’s mother. Junior speaks about his professional boxing career  that ended with an injury. Lily references how and why she left the boredom of a rural Irish village. Peador tells of how he helped Emer’s mother after he and Theo abounded her.

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After Dean is beaten badly by a former pro boxer, Junior steps up to take on the pro since he has already, before his injury, beaten the guy. The assets of the Roadshow are at stake in this bout. While we do see some sparing, the boxing matches are only eluded to yet we realize the power of those violent encounters.

Playwright Billy Roche uses a rich lyrical writing style (a true Irish hallmark) to blend humor, poignancy, and, of course, melancholy as he gets his characters to focus on their memories of their lost opportunities.

I enjoyed this wonderfully gritty drama that is very Irish in spirit but universal in tone and meaning. The acting was superb. Jeff Christian led the way as the emotionally explosive patriarch while Michael Grant was the stady, level-headed cut man. Matthew Isler presented Dean as the obnoxious, mouthy pugilist. Carolyn Klein is the cynical, tough woman who is Theo’s equal while Dan Waller is the ex-boxer who still wants to prove that he still can fight. Jamie L. Young is the teen daughter who is curious about her father and his way of life. She seeks romance and acceptance.

This two hour play contains a few surprises along the way as we empathize with and enjoy their adventures. And, I must say that the authentic Irish brogues sported by the entire cast did allow me and the audience to understand all the dialogue. Kudos to Eva Breneman (dialect coach) and to the craftsmanship of the cast.

Lay Me Down Softly is something different and something worth seeing, Those how enjoy Irish theatre will treasure this splendid play.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, call 773-878-3727, www.seanachai.org, tickets  $26 – $30, student/senior $5 off, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through May 25, 2014