Theater

Taos cast revisits a theatrical favorite

Actors from 1989 production of 'Riders to the Sea' return for a staged reading

By Laura Bulkin
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/23/19

On the surface, a play set in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland might seem infinitely remote from the experience of high desert New Mexico. But the play's universal themes -- the interplay of devout faith and elder lore, the death of loved ones and the daily struggle to eke out a living from a harsh environment -- resonated deeply with Taos audiences when it was performed here 30 years ago.

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Theater

Taos cast revisits a theatrical favorite

Actors from 1989 production of 'Riders to the Sea' return for a staged reading

Posted

Irish playwright John Millington Synge produced his one-act "Riders to the Sea" in 1904. On the surface, a play set in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland might seem infinitely remote from the experience of high desert New Mexico. But the play's universal themes -- the interplay of devout faith and elder lore, the death of loved ones and the daily struggle to eke out a living from a harsh environment -- resonated deeply with Taos audiences when it was performed here 30 years ago.

In that production, Pam Parker directed Judith Rane, Tymotha Thurston, Carlene Christie and Burton Jesperson. Those five talented thespians have since gone on to countless stage productions in New Mexico and around the globe, as well as appearances in film and television.

This Friday (Oct. 25), at 7 p.m., the original director and cast of Taos' 1989 "Riders to the Sea" (minus Thurston, who regretfully had to leave the production to tend to a family commitment) will reunite for a staged reading of the play at the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, 108 Civic Plaza Drive.

SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith explained that the 30-years-later revival was the brainchild of Rane, inspired by plans for SOMOS' upcoming literary pilgrimage to Ireland next year.

"On the trip we will be visiting the summer home of Synge on the island of Inish Meain," Smith said. "The play gives a poignant view of life in rural Ireland during the latter part of the 19th century. Like all of Synge's plays, it is noted for capturing the poetic dialog of the Irish language. The plot is based on the hopeless struggle of a people against the impersonal but relentless cruelty of the sea. Synge's use of the native Irish language was part of the Irish Literary Revival, a period when Irish literature looked to encourage pride and nationalism. Several scenes in the play are taken from stories Synge collected and recorded in his book, 'The Aran Islands.' SOMOS is excited to host the original cast that performed the play years ago, and give the audience an opportunity to engage in this powerful and famous one-act play."

Rane will reprise her role as family matriarch Maurya. "I have been immensely moved by this play ever since we first performed it here in Taos," she said. "I can only hope that those headed for Ireland will have an opportunity to hear the staged reading before starting out on their voyage. Synge knows of which he writes, and his literary poetic style is proclaimed worldwide. This play is about the sea and those whose lives are held by the sea: The sea that giveth and the sea that taketh away."

Parker will be taking on Thurston's role of daughter Cathleen as well as directing. "A couple of months ago, Judith approached me to see if I would be interested in directing and helping with this reading. Of course, it is one of the greatest of plays, so it is with the greatest of humility I accepted. It is a difficult project for us landlocked 21st-century New Mexicans. It was first performed in 1904 by the Irish National Theater. The poet W.B. Yeats had suggested that Synge visit the Aran Islands, so Synge spent five summers absorbing their culture and stories."

Parker adds that "scholars say the play is a tapestry of what he learned there. The language is a challenge as it is a very rhythmic Irish dialect, and the emotional life of the play is filled with cascading waves of grief and loss. So a bit of a mouthful for a reading, but we will do our best to serve the text. Rather than just sitting and reading, we will do a minimal amount of movement to help reflect the relationships in the play. The older I get, the deeper the title of the play strikes me. It's a rich subject for meditation."

Christie, who plays younger daughter Nora, arrived in Taos from New York during the summer of 1983 to explore and work for the Taos Repertory Company. She is currently the staff house manager and volunteer coordinator at the Taos Center for the Arts. "The first production, in 1989, was part of a night of one-act plays," Christie recalled. "The first time I played Nora I was a bit off the age range in the play. Now it is 30 years later! But the age of the character does not matter -- it is the language and what is happening in the play that does. The play is a moment in the life of an Irish family. It is very intense throughout. Being able to participate has not only given me the opportunity to again work with my talented castmates, but to dive even deeper into that moment."

Jespersen, who returns as the family's last surviving son, Bartley, has been active in Taos theater for decades. He is also a singer-songwriter, guitarist and silversmith. He told us he is happy to be reunited with old friends for this staged reading.

Admission is free and the public is invited. For more information, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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