Timely due to the tragic events of the past two weeks, the production incorporates universal themes of religious tolerance, prejudice and acceptance from the thought-provoking script by Helen Edmundson.
Suspenseful but containing a few moments of levity to break the darkness, the story centers on the choices people can make to see that history fails to repeat itself. "The Clearing" documents the troubled period of Anglo/Irish history of 1652 to 1655 through the life of English settler Robert Preston (David Rose).
He and his lovely Irish wife, Madeleine (Denise Dillard), celebrate the birth of their son before learning disturbing news from their neighbors, Solomon and Susaneh Winter (Blaise Messinger and Alison Shanks). Cromwell loyalists are seizing Irish land, forcing women and children into indentured servitude and brutally killing others.
Preston must wrestle between loyalty to his English heritage and the love of his Irish wife.
Outstanding acting heightens the audience connection to the material. Emotions fly across Madeleine's face as Dillard vividly defines her fiery, passionate character in voice and physical presence. In contrast, Faith Solie's delicate presence gives credibility to the gentle, soft-spoken Killaine.
As portrayed by Alison Shanks, Susaneh is a fierce, proud woman, with a controlled and bitter exterior masking a righteous, fighting heart.
The optimistic, easygoing Solomon is warmly brought to life by Messinger with gentle humor and open expression. Rose captures the weak-willed, indecisive Preston with delicate underplaying and remorseful reactions.
Supporting actors also deftly portray their more limited characters.
Director Robert O'Reilly smoothly blends Gaelic and English language throughout. His production vividly brings to life how history affects the present. He employs a simple set, securing focus on the actors and the themes of loyalty, love and betrayal raised.
The craggy moors created by Barbara Grill reflect the rocky relationships between the characters and their uneasy feelings of ethnic identity. Matthew O. O'Donnell's dramatic lighting displays a luscious Ireland that gradually darkens and dies.
Sound work by Gary Christensen is outstanding as well. Winds whistle, bells clang, thunder explodes, and wolves howl as the darkness grows.
There are a few missteps. Several lines are bobbled or stepped on. The ending is a tad too melodramatic, with lights, sound and acting rising to a feverish pitch.
Adult in theme and tone,
"The Clearing" forces audiences to confront their values, prejudices and
judgments. It demonstrates that unless people learn to forgive past tragedies
and truly accept all religious and ethnic differences, hatred and violence
will continue to raise their ugly heads.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles