'Temporal Powers': Off-Broadway play mines misery of life

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"Temporal Powers" is an excellent play, beautifully acted and directed. When it was over, I wanted to lock myself in a dark room with a full bottle and contemplate the futility of love and life.

But that would only be when the depression lifted.

As they say in Ireland, it is a grand play, and this is as Irish as it gets. Written by the not-well-enough-known Teresa Deevy (1894-1963), this was first staged at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1932.

Now it's at the Mint Theater, one of off-Broadway's powerhouses. Steps from the Broadway theaters, the Mint is a world away because it is on the third floor of an old building. Here, a soft Irish fiddle is piped in as the lights go up on the set. The set is the same for the three acts.

It's the inside of a ruin, which is nothing but stone and exposed brick, the sort of structure allowed to run to seed elsewhere. But if this were in, say, commuting distance of Manhattan, someone would pay millions to renovate.

Here we find a miserable married couple, Michael and Min Donovan (Aidan Redmond, Rosie Benton), in 1927. They were evicted from their home, have buried their young son, and have no money or prospects. She's furious. He would be happy if he could just get some manual labor. Inside this cold, bare room their marriage unravels as they're presented with the possibility of money and prospects.

Tucked into a rafter of the ruin is a pile of money. This could be their ticket out of the countryside, where they have no opportunities, and to the States. Min wants to use it. Michael refuses; it's not theirs. He wants to take it to Father O'Brien (Robertson Carricart) but first Michael's friend, Moses (Eli James), stops by to help them. Lizzie (Wrenn Schmidt), who's besotted with Moses, follows him, and Moses' mother, Daisy (Fiana Toibin), follows both. Daisy is the one comic relief in the play.

Toibin, incidentally, provided the same humor and lightness to "My Scandalous Life," about Oscar Wilde's dying lover, earlier this year. She fusses and criticizes, gossips and bosses, and loves to ask, "Why was I born?"

To play these roles, certainly.

As the players go in and out, we meet Ned and Maggie Cooney (Con Horgan, Bairbre Dowling), a haggard couple. He was just sprung from prison, and naturally this is his stash of money.

Naturally nothing good can happen, and it doesn't. But over the nearly two-and-a-half-hour play, we're captivated by the beautiful cadence of the words, the spot-on timing and the misery of the human condition.

Knowing it won't end well only means that when this is over, you must go down the three flights, brave the lights of Broadway, and on a quiet trip home contemplate just how beautifully done misery can be.
Photo/Video credit: Richard Termine