`Clearing' depicts dark period of ethnic cleansing in Ireland

Skillful direction aids Colonial Players' intense production

January 25, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It could have been the snow or the dreary subject matter that left several seats empty at Colonial Players' theater in Annapolis on Sunday.

Some subscribers could have been put off by the play's focus on ethnic oppression in mid-17th-century Ireland, when Oliver Cromwell's oppressive English colonization policies prevailed. But that would have been unfortunate, because it is precisely this dark history that makes English playwright Helen Edmundson's 1993 play "The Clearing" such an emotionally charged drama.

That Edmundson is a feminist whose sympathy obviously lies with the Irish lends passion to the development of her characters. The dramatist uses light and dark effectively, with dark events looming in the riveting opening scene outside the home of Madeleine and Robert Preston.

Madeleine's gentle best friend, Killane Farrell, knows what is coming as she speaks with young rebel Pierce Kinsellagh, an old friend who views Madeleine's pregnancy by her English husband as "poison in her body."

The scene shifts inside, where English landowner Robert Preston and his Irish Catholic wife celebrate the birth of their first child. Their joy is soon interrupted by a visit from their English royalist neighbors, Solomon and Susaneh Winter, who have heard frightening rumors.

Having killed the English King Charles I, the Puritan conquerors have embarked on Cromwell's resettlement plans to drive the Irish guerrillas and defeated English royalist landowners out of Ireland. Unable to believe that his countrymen would enforce such edicts in County Kildare, Robert visits the governor, Sir Charles Sturman, with Solomon Winter, where they learn the truth from Sturman.

Under the skilled direction of Colonial's Mary Fawcett Watko, every turn of the plot is revealed in sharp contrast, each scene building on what has preceded. Chesapeake's theater-in-the-round configuration requires extra time for scene changes, and this constraint serves to increase tensions.

"The Clearing" continues Thursdays through Sundays, through Feb. 17, at the theater, 108 East St. in Annapolis. Tickets: 410-268-7373.

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