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Which Female Playwright Has Been Called the Irish Chekhov?
By FRANK RIZZO
Monday, July 31, 2017  •  
Mon Jul 31, 2017  •  
Directing  •   0 comments Share This
"She is the most brilliant playwright I'm able to claim some responsibility for bringing back."

Why the Mint Theater continues to champion Teresa Deevy

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As the producing artistic director of the Mint Theater Company, which specializes in mounting neglected plays from the past, Jonathan Bank is in the business of revitalizing forgotten dramatists. But he admits he's unlikely to find another "lost" scribe like Teresa Deevy. "She is the most brilliant playwright I'm able to claim some responsibility for bringing back," he says emphatically. Born in Ireland in 1894, Deevy became deaf as a young adult while studying to become a teacher. Ultimately she turned to writing, and from 1930 to 1936 Dublin's Abbey Theatre produced six of her plays. But after the Abbey dropped her, she segued to radio and her stage career effectively ended.

Over the years her plays went out of print, were rarely revived, and eventually faded from memory. Then in 2009, Bank came across a mention of her work while researching early 20th-century female Irish playwrights. Bank was so impressed by the delicacy and humanity in her writing that the Mint soon launched the Teresa Deevy Project, staging three of her full-length dramas between 2010 and 2013: Wife to James Whelan, Temporal Powers, and Katie Roche, which had played briefly on Broadway in 1937. Academics, audiences, and arts journalists all agreed: Deevy was a significant rediscovery.

This summer, the Mint's reclamation of Deevy continues with The Suitcase Under the Bed, a quartet of four one acts directed by Bank. Three -- Holiday House, In the Cellar of My Friend, and Strange Birth -- are world premieres; Deevy's best-known short, The King of Spain's Daughter, rounds out the program. All four explore marriage with a hard-edged eye. Considering Deevy never wed, it's not a shock to find that they don't celebrate the institution.

Sarah Nicole Deaver and A.J. Shively in
Sarah Nicole Deaver and A.J. Shively in 'In the Cellar of my Friend'

Bank isn't surprised that, all these decades later, Deevy's work continues to resonate. "She's been described as the Irish Chekhov," he says. "She was very spare and her work had psychological complexity, dealing with conflicting desires in individuals and the challenges of connecting with others." Bank notes that Deevy's ability to create character through dialogue was all the more remarkable because of her deafness. "She had language and she had imagination," he adds.

Bank was initially inspired to put together this evening of Deevy shorts due to the furor over the Abbey's 2016 season, which commemorated 100 years since the Easter Rising in 1916. "There were no women represented in the 11 plays which were presented," he says. The outcry at the absence of gender parity prompted a regime change at that theatre and, this August, the Abbey is reviving Deevy's Katie Roche 80 years after it first premiered there. "When I heard that was happening, I knew it was time to go back to the plays that I've been hoarding," Bank says.

Bank decided to call the Mint's evening The Suitcase Under the Bed because that's literally where some of the one acts were discovered during a 2010 trip he took to the late playwright's countryside home in Waterford, Ireland. There he met Deevy's grandniece who shared the hodgepodge of contents from an old valise, including press clippings, a high school yearbook, and a bunch of typed scripts. "Two of the plays we're doing came from that suitcase," he says. "They were never published, never produced." The title also has a symbolic significance. "These plays lay under that bed for years, forgotten, and it spoke to me of a trip not taken."

That is, until now.

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TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for The Suitcase Under the Bed. Go here to browse our current offers.

Follow Frank Rizzo at @ShowRiz. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: A.J. Shively and Sarah Nicole Deaver in The King of Spain's Daughter. Photos by Richard Termine




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