Moment is much more than another biblical tall tale of quick forgiveness. Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan traps a dysfunctional family into one room to interact passive aggressively employing a variety of finely honed emotionally exploitative techniques until the progressively, aggressively antagonistic atmosphere erupts like a simmering volcano. Kinahan is a master game maker. Watching her work up on stage is akin to putting together a puzzle alongside the puzzle pieces themselves.
Moment revolves around a family in recovery from a tragedy perpetrated by prodigal son Nial (Peter Albrink) as a child. As the play unfurls and revelations occur, it becomes clear the extent to which Nial’s tragedy has rippled through his family.
…indicative of having access to a window into a stranger’s family home.
Convincingly frail and always a little bewildered, Dearbhla Molloy is Teresa “T” Lynch, matriarch of the Lynch family. Drifting through life in a fog of illness and depression, Teresa’s love for her daughters Ciara Black (Caroline Bootle Pendercast) and Niamh (Emily Landham) is expressed through a heady mixture of emotional blackmail and denial. Teresa reveals cherished family secrets seemingly as it suits her needs.
Landham’s Niamh is a seamlessly fabricated, self-loathing bundle of emotions. Juggling sort of/maybe boyfriend Fin White (Avery Clark) and her barely-there mother, Niamh is fighting her own internal demons. Vivid flashbacks alongside childhood friend Mira Cohen (Hilary Kelly) emphasize the extent to which the central tragedy of Moment is still more than real for Niamh. Cohen is captivatingly energetic. Whatever shred of composure Niamh maintains daily is further torn to shreds the moment she discovers her prodigal brother Nial is returning home with mystery girlfriend Ruth Pigeon (Hannah Yelland) after almost a decade of radio silence.
Niamh’s sister Ciara (Pendergast) is faultlessly obliging, outwardly well-adjusted and always on hand to absorb familial trauma. Pendergast keeps her character bright but alludes to the cracks beginning to show; a little tired, just a little sad. Ciara’s husband Dave Blake (Ciaran Byrne) is his wife’s staunch gatekeeper. Byrne’s jovial and British footie-fan mannerisms are on-point and charming. As his wife’s family falls apart he is unfailingly supportive and empathetic, a source of much-needed comedic relief.
Nial (Albrink) never intended to return home. No longer a child delinquent, Nial is reinventing himself as a globetrotting abstract artist sans family. Perky and naïve, Ruth (Yelland) saunters onstage, happily positioning herself in the middle of a family in turmoil. Albrink and Yelland make a pleasingly Bohemian pair. Yelland’s Ruth shines distinguishingly bright, while Albrink limit Nial’s body language repertoire to standoffish at best, defensive at worst.
Director Ethan McSweeney manages a chaotic atmosphere without overwhelming the audience. Set Designer Debra Booth’s set is nothing short of meticulous. Real Tesco grocery bags adorn the set! Costume Designer Philip Witcomb keeps it realistic, dressing the characters in everyday attire representative of their very specific personalities. In the flashbacks Niamh’s childhood friend is outfitted in the gold standard of elaborate 80’s finery. Lighting Designer Scott Bolman’s design is soft and indicative of soft overhead kitchen lighting.
Kinahan draws her inspiration “…from off the street, from the top seat of a bus, or from a fragment of newspaper.” Stylistically reminiscent of Studio Theatre’s recent repertoire, Kinahan’s characters are deeply relatable and understandably flawed. Ultimately, the coziness and intimacy of the stage and theatre was indicative of having access to a window into a stranger’s family home.
Studio Theatre has a long history of producing play by Irish playwrights and Kinahan has the distinction of being the first Irish woman playwright produced at Studio Theatre; a well-timed reminder that plays written by women and performed in DC are not produced in the vacuum of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival.
Moment at Studio Theatre still has some way to go before the proverbial kinks are ironed out. Questionable accents abounded and as the play progressed some accents morphed or disappeared entirely. Throughout the entirety of the performance there was a lack of consistency in the pronunciation of the name Niamh, which left me baffled. This lack of consistency may seem trivial but these kinks have the power to distract us from the magic onstage.
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission.
Moment runs through April 24th at Studio Theatre located at 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. For tickets call (202) 332-3300 or click here.