The Mint Theater Company has dug up the 1948 play, “The Mountains Look Different,” by Micheál mac Liammóir (1899-1978), the Englishman who reinvented himself as Irish. The drama produced protests in Dublin with charges of immorality, and it is easy to see why the contents may have rattled some at the time. Looking at the current production in light of present standards, it is the playwright’s blatant plot contrivance, not daring, that stands out. However, the gimmickry is overridden by the excellent performances one has come to expect in Mint revivals, in this case under the taut direction of Aidan Redmond.
Most of the action takes place on a farm in the West of Ireland on St. John’s Eve, followed by what happens on the next day. Matthew Conroy (Paul O’Brien), a successful miller, arrives to inform farm owner Martin Grealish (Con Horgan), that his son, Tom, has just married Conroy’s niece, Bairbre, and that they will be arriving and wish to stay at the farm for a while. Early on we see that Grealish is a stern character not easy to deal with.
Tom (Jesse Pennington) does arrive with Bairbre (Brenda Meaney), who is very attractive and sexy looking, with Tom doting on her. When Martin sees her there is a look of recognition on his part, and we soon learn that he thinks she is the prostitute with whom he had sex quite a few years ago. By now, it is clear this play that will not end happily.
Meaney succeeds admirably in conveying the nuances of Bairbre at that point in her life. She acts convincingly in showing her determination to put the past behind her with her marriage three days earlier to a decent chap. To build a new pure atmosphere she hasn’t yet had sex with him. We see immediately that she is on a collision course with Tom’s father, and the playwright contrives a set-up with the father’s demands bound to lead to ultimate tragedy. Audiences should have no problem predicting such an outcome even if not yet privy to the exact details.
Father and son, as well as supporting characters, are also very well acted, and as the inevitable storm gathers, the play commands rapt attention even if so much is telegraphed. The set by Vicki R. Davis has a convincing outside look of the farmhouse, which then opens to reveal a convincing inside. The playwright, who acted the role of Tom in the original staging, endows the work with eerie atmosphere by tying it to the celebration of St John’s Eve.
By presenting “The Mountains Look Different” the Mint calls attention to the career of mac Liammóir, whose birth name was Alfred Willmore, and who achieved considerable success. His works include “The Importance of Being Oscar,” his one-man show about Oscar Wilde.
By the way, Theatre Row, where the play is being shown, although deserving praise for an attractive renovation job, has dropped name designations of its theaters, and assigned numbers instead. Thus “The Mountains Look Different” is in Theatre Four, instead of The Beckett, which it used to be called. This means we will no longer attend the Clurman as well. I herewith register my objection. It was always so nice in going to Theatre Row to be reminded of the great playwright Samuel Beckett and the valued director and drama critic Harold Clurman. Giving theaters named after them numbers instead makes no sense at all and insults their memory. How about putting their names back? At Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed June 21, 2019.