Beyond dancing, beyond the hours and hours of practice that go into the artistry of movement, and beyond the insider’s glimpse of a cutthroat teenage competition, Margaret McAuliffe’s “The Humours of Bandon” is a master class in storytelling—and what stories she tells! The one-woman show, beginning life as a bona fide hit at the Dublin Fringe Festival, reveals the darker side of Irish competitive dancing with yes, humor, a healthy amount of drama, and a cadre of characters that turn this into a multidimensional triumph. There are so many layers here to explore and peel back, so much so that what might seem tangential episodes become just as critical and as entertaining as the core of the piece itself. McAuliffe as the performer and playwright certainly knows her words well. She knows their essence, and her entire body fluidly performs in time to this lyrical essence.
…a master class in storytelling…McAuliffe’s range…is impressive…a piece that fully, and quite beautifully, inhabits the stage.
Assuming the primary persona, 18-year-old Annie, McAuliffe takes us through a typical (or far from typical depending on how you look at it) career of a teenage Irish dancer who is hell-bent, at least initially, on winning the Open Championship. The assortment of characters with whom she interacts includes her somewhat oblivious, though well-intentioned, mother, her determined to “whip ‘em into shape” dance teacher, and a fearsome competitor in one Rita Noonan.
Annie’s teenage take on the monumental nature of the Open Championship varies. She’s hot, then she’s cold. Meanwhile, she’s also very much concerned with ensuring that the “bendies” are rolled into her hair in a clockwise direction, not to mention, the dilemma she faces in terms of how exactly to pee in her more prohibitive-for-public-restroom costumes. It’s the stuff of typical teenage life, but it’s also the stuff of a regimented and highly disciplined life, which begs the question, where is the balance? And how long is an 18-year-old supposed to hold onto this ostensibly balance-less lifestyle?
McAuliffe’s range in terms of her extensive array of voices and mannerisms is impressive. What’s more, the theatrical vulnerability and rawness of her performance inevitably endear her to audiences. You find yourself cheering for her, every Irish dance step of the way and, yes, you will learn a few of those before the performance is over.
The stage is bare save for a small table that McAuliffe creatively employs throughout the production. Lighting by Eoin Winning and the accompanying sound effects/voiceovers give a bit more heft to this production. Though, honestly, McAuliffe possesses enough dramatic heft all on her own. She never misses a beat as she sustains an exhilarating and contagious energy level throughout.
As one hopes, there are a number of spotlight dance moments interwoven in the piece. McAuliffe does not disappoint, ultimately demonstrating what having true passion for something—apart from the trophies, the 900 pound (cost, not weight) costumes, and the rigorous practice sessions—genuinely looks like. With a follow your heart, sing your own song, fly your own flag message like this and a performance like that, a robust standing ovation was a given.
Kudos also go to director Stephanie Preissner. Audiences come to wholeheartedly believe in the various incarnations of Annie, clapping for her triumphs and sighing an authentic ‘aww’ for her losses. This is due, in large part, to Preissner’s instinctual hand in guiding McAuliffe’s voice through the shifting scenes and presumably encouraging her to take the kinds of chances that transform a one-person show from a somewhat staid monologue to a piece that fully, and quite beautifully, inhabits the stage.
Running time: One hour with no intermission.
“The Humours of Bandon” runs through June 11, 2023, presented by Solas Nua and Fishamble at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.