L-R: Cathryn Wake (Maggie), Michael Louis Serafin-Wells (Mick), Gina Costigan (Hannah) and Kevin Hogan (Thomas)
The dictionary defines a 'seedbed' as soil used to nourish seedlings into larger plants before transplanting them into a garden or field to grow. Bryan Delaney's world premiere at New Jersey Rep deals with a family whose only child has been away and is now returning to her home turf, so the analogy is clear. Her surprise homecoming only serves to unearth the family's tangled roots and bring home truths to the harsh light of day.
Set in an upper-class Irish dwelling, Delaney introduces us to Thomas (Kevin Hogan) and Hannah (Gina Costigan), whose 18-year-old daughter Maggie (Cathryn Wake) uses her parents wedding anniversary to introduce her husband-to-be Mick (Michael Louis Serafin-Wells), a London-born florist, who is more than a few years her senior. Thomas's reaction to Mick is less than hospitable—but it is his icy greeting of his daughter and over-wrought reaction to her low-cut dress that hints that their father / daughter relationship has not always been a rosy one. Mum Hannah is more tolerant, even encouraging of the union, for reasons that at first mystify her spouse. Even considering their May / December courtship, cockney Mick is clearly not cut from the same cloth as his future in-laws.
Delaney is a skilled writer, and the play expertly divulges the cause for their familial strife in measured doses. Although set in Ireland, the play and its characters might easily hale from wherever dysfunctional families are found. Delaney is not simply interested in truthful and compelling dialogue, however, but also in symbolism and larger themes. Thomas is a bird enthusiast, so overtones of 'nesting' and 'flight' are keenly felt. It is also no coincidence that in Great Britain women are often referred to as 'birds.' Mick is a florist, who doubtless has much knowledge of seedbeds and an appreciation of flowers, a symbol of femininity if ever there was one. Delaney's script occasionally allows these metaphors to upstage the dialogue, and it is at these times that we hear his voice more clearly than that of his characters. In Act Two, Mick provokingly engages in a litany of sexual allusions involving plant life that threatens to take things a few blooms too far. Another (probably) symbolic moment concerning some sour milk also pushes the naturalistic narrative over the top. But overall these minor miss-steps do not detract from Delaney's otherwise insightful and skilled storytelling.
As usual at New Jersey Rep, the production is first-rate; beautifully acted and designed. The play is sensitively and unobtrusively staged by SuzAnne Barabas (also the theater's Artistic Director, right) with capable assistance by Adam Fitzgerald.
Jessica Parks has designed an Irish home that is a wee bit more than a mere cottage but still has a quaint hint of the old country about it. The room is warmly bathed in Jill Nagle's spot-on lighting.
While the accents sometimes waver a bit, the cast is uniformly excellent, with Gina Costigan a clear stand-out as matriarch Hannah. Costigan (left) conveys a warmth and focus that makes her imminently watchable in every moment. Her Hannah has a self-assured tone that still allows for vulnerability—as well as the rattle of a skeleton or two in her proverbial closet. No less impressive is Cathryn Wake's Maggie (left), who brings a youthful energy and a hint of rebellious spirit to the script. The play's main asset is its ensemble acting, making unearthing this seedbed an ultimately rewarding experience.
THE SEEDBED by Bryan Delaney is onstage through November 15th at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey. For tickets and information call 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org
Photos by: SuzAnne Barabas
Thanks to Rick Busciglio for sharing this review.