Irish play a study of power, politics

Drama: `Hogan's Goat' examines the great personal cost of unbridled ambition

Arundel Live

March 16, 2000|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The eve of St. Patrick's Day seems an appropriate time to talk about the Irish Catholic political scene.

Colonial Players' March presentation is William Alfred's 1966 play "Hogan's Goat," which deals with the political ambitions of two men in Brooklyn at the turn of the century: Edward Quinn, entrenched as Brooklyn's mayor for 30 years, and his rival, a younger Irishman named Matthew Stanton.

Once again, Colonial Players offers a thoughtful drama that challenges both actors and audience. Alfred's poetic work examines the rivalry between two powerful men and the loyalties of their followers, subjects as old and profound as those examined by Sophocles. Like ancient Greek dramas, "Hogan's Goat" is the stuff of tragedy.

The plot concerns Stanton, who is about to realize his dream of becoming mayor of Brooklyn. Quinn may be driven from office because of his unsavory dealings. Not only does Stanton want Quinn's job, he long ago took the woman Quinn loved -- Agnes Hogan, who never appears but nonetheless occupies a pivotal role.

Stanton's young, convent-educated wife, Kathleen, is tormented that her wedding took place in acity hall, not in the church.

Stanton and Quinn are fiercely ambitious and covet political power at any price. Quinn has accumulated enough dirt on his constituents to blackmail most of them.

Stanton, who knew abject poverty in Ireland, escapes its degradation in his new country, but at a price. He feared poverty so much that at age 25 he took up with a woman 10 years his senior, did her bidding and ran her errands -- and became known as Hogan's goat. But Agnes Hogan also lovingly taught Stanton how to behave.

Alfred's powerful play is filled with a lilting poetry that ennobles its message of power and politics, religion and morality. As Stanton, James Gallagher captures best the lilt, cadence and beauty of the language, and he invests the lines with profound emotion, although sometimes he grows overly loud.

Kathleen Clarke Ruttum is convincing as his constricted and devoted wife.

Jeffrey Miller is excellent as Quinn, conveying a sinister ambition that is frightening as he depicts Quinn's determination to retain his political power at any price. But Miller too often shouts his lines.

Frank B. Moorman gives a memorable portrayal of Father Stanislaus Coyne, making him a fully dimensional priest who is firm in his beliefs and concerned for his parishioners' welfare. Ed Wintermute also is convincingly priestly in the role of Father Maloney.

Be warned that this is no pleasant "Irish Eyes Are Smiling" St. Patrick's romp, but an unrelenting tragedy that reveals how an unbridled drive for power can destroy. Everyone is hurt by the actions of others, particularly those who are victims of Stanton's charm.

The play is much like opera in its overblown, unmitigated tragedy, with the female characters sacrificed at the altar of love, making Agnes and Kathleen as tragic as Violetta or the Irish Isolde. But I'd have enjoyed it more with music.

Although the costumes were lovely and looked authentic, the set impressive, and the acting excellent, the play's concern with couples living together without the sanction of the church seemed dated. And although I admire Colonial Players for taking on such a complex drama, I found the play a bit tedious, overly wordy.

But I'm not Irish, so I asked two Irish friends for their impressions; they thought "Hogan's Goat" was an accurate portrayal of Irish life in America 100 years ago.

"Hogan's Goat" continues through April 8. Call the box office at 410-268-7373 for tickets.

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