by Cherie Messore
Posted March 13, 2017
Playwright Bryan Delaney’s latest play onstage at Irish Classical Theatre Company has a curious title. By definition, a seedbed is that fine layer of topsoil where seeds germinate. Translate this into a theatre metaphor and it sparks images of growth, a harbinger of spring, or coming of age. Something far less innocent is taking root in this seedbed, perhaps rooted in Freud’s assertions about children and their innate rivalry with their same-sex parent.
As we meet 17-years-married couple Thomas and Hannah, they’re affectionate and sweet as they talk about their upcoming anniversary, heightened by the anticipation of their daughter Maggie’s visit to their Irish country cottage after six months in Holland. She’ll have a friend in tow, a man named Mick, and if Hannah seems anxious about this meeting, your first impression of her is that she’s as flighty as one of Thomas’ pet sparrows. But she’s not: she’s a strong Irish woman determined to protect her daughter and rebuild her troubled marriage. When Maggie arrives, she leaves Mick to cool his heels in the van while she greets her parents. Their words are warm, but their interactions and body language tell another story. And when Mick finally enters, we meet a middle-aged man who is solid and sincere, and very much in love with 18-year-old Maggie. And not at all what her parents expected.
Here’s where troubles begin to sprout. Though Thomas is not Maggie’s biological dad, he’s been in her life since she was a baby. “I don’t even remember the other one,” Maggie says, in what should be a poignant moment. What emerges is a complicated family saga, a classic drama with some witty moments exchanged between three deeply flawed characters and one good guy trying to see his way through a morass of family subterfuge.
Kristen Tripp Kelley plays the complicated Hannah winningly. Her performance is perfectly layered with a mother’s conviction to nurture her only child and a wife’s passion for her husband, even when she has her doubts. Chris Kelly as Thomas has some of the most challenging moments of the production. His dinner table monologue starts out with whimsy but snowballs into a complicated commentary on the state of this family. Watch his gestures carefully: every move is perfectly nuanced and evocative.
Arianne Davidow is charming as Maggie. She’s determined to shed Maggie’s wild-child past: her struggle to move on is palpable. As Mick, Maggie’s older-than-dad boyfriend, Eric Rawski shows an unfailing depth of character. Yes, a burly guy can own a florist shop, be charmed by a teenager who he sees as a woman, until his dark side flares ever so briefly.
For as strong as the story and the characters are, the subtleties make this production extra special. The sparse set perfectly conveys the Irish cottage setting. The chirping of the birds – and the volume that rises and falls with the intensity of the dialogue – adds the right touch. There are moments of silence, too, that say more than words. Hannah’s dishing up of trifle at the dinner table is most telling. Greg Natale’s expert direction puts this all in the proper balance.
‘The Seedbed’ is intense and riveting. There are adult themes and language planted in a powerful message of what is and isn’t love. And what is imagined and what is real. Or is it?