Rebel Theatre Without Activism is as Pointless as Sending Thoughts and Prayers After a Tragedy: “The Plough and The Stars”

Presented by A.R.T.*
Abbey Theatre on Tour in association with Cusack Projects Limited
Written by Sean O’Casey
Directed by Sean Holmes
Voice direction by Andrea Ainsworth

Loeb Drama Center
Cambridge, MA
ART on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: gun fire, siren and other loud effects, punk rock

(Cambridge, MA) Ladies and gentlemen, Unions are legal and necessary. Unions are one of the only protections low to middle income wage earners have against power-hungry suits with no regard for struggles that aren’t their own. Please support your local unions to ensure that they remain strong, honest, and transparent.

The Plough and the Stars is about rebellious men using a bandaid to cover a bullet wound. Act one shows us ordinary folks living in Dublin tenement housing as they are caught up in grassroots rebellion politics. Their pleasures are small – for they are small, bottom of the barrel people – but they are good. Their pains are real; their rally for autonomy deserves respect. Act two shows us these same folk cowering after Easter Rising fighting begins. They make themselves comfortable by the illegal means available to them while war destroys the city.  

O’Casey’s is a great writer. The actors in The Plough and The Stars are excellent storytellers. This production fills me with disgust. The Plough and the Stars isn’t meant to prevent history from repeating itself; it’s a reminder that we are largely incapable of changing the minds of ignorant men. I have no patience for the pointless games of visionless man-children bleating that only they can save their country. This is no use in rehashing the same stories of ritual sacrifice over and over as if they will reach the ears that so desperately need to hear them. Men cry warning to the masses of the same dangers that they so patently, so blatantly, so conveniently ignored when their forefathers warned them years before. It and their stories sicken me.

The arrogant audacity that these manchildren believe that they will succeed where history has proven they will fail without sufficient firepower, money and intellectual capital fills me with cynical rage. They are merely small men making small pokes at history like an impotent neanderthal attempting a moderately intelligent sheep. Their heroes are impotent, symbols cracked. O’Casey’s play is historical and its protagonists are paltry representations of voiceless millions who will never receive justice.

O’Casey wrote his his female characters with stark realism. They prove yet again that not only are women the casual casualties of men’s war, we are the workforce behind the return to everyday living. Hilda Fay’s Bessie Burgess is an alcoholic, bitterly raging Cassandra foretelling the future to a disbelieving crowd. Kate Stanley Brennan’s Nora is a broken Ophelia, laughing as she drowns.

Sean O’Casey has wrote a play that blends “The Trojan Women” with “Henry IV (part 1).” The Plough and the Stars debuted at the Abbey Theatre 10 years after the Easter Rising. The Abbey Theatre has created a modern reproduction of O’Casey’s play. It’s the most punk show playing right now. If it were mediocre, I wouldn’t be reminded of how much loathing the upper echelons has for the common man. Rather than merely rage at how atrocious history is, let us instead actively work to stop it from repeating.

*Speaking of unions and socialism, did you know that the ART doesn’t use local actors in any of its locally-sourced productions. The ART has its own theatre institute, but students must move to NYC in order to perform in ART productions. ART has many outreach initiatives to work with its “community.” It also runs Club Oberon. Neither of these are the ART. Neither have Tonys. No, the ART, a repertory company, prefers its performers to be from outside MA. Funny how the Huntington, SpeakEasy, CompanyOne, New Rep, Lyric Stage, etc. don’t have this problem.


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