Through October 6
THE CLEARING Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre/Shaw Festival
By Augustine Warner
Oliver Cromwell was a sign of what would happen in the next four centuries, to our time.
The English government and judicial system he led and controlled seized the developed and rich Irish lands of those on the other side of many issues and drove residents to live in the swamps; turned over farms and lands to supporters of Cromwell’s Commonwealth; murdered tens of thousands; and, sent thousands more to the sugar islands of the Caribbean as slaves, where they were worked to death to benefit the planters in England.
That may be why Mayor Byron Brown marches in the St. Patrick’s Parade as Irish.
You can see in Helen Edmundson’s “The Clearing” the roots of much of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the genocide of American Indians and the justice system of Nazi Germany, like Roland Freisler, a judge with a Swastika armband who reinforced Hitler’s system with death sentences.
This is a rarely produced, relatively recent play, getting an interesting production in the Shaw Festival’s Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, using an effective and quick-change set from Michelle Tracey.
The production offers some strong performances, particularly Tom Rooney’s Sir Charles Sturman, Kelly Wong’s Robert Preston and Bahareh Yaraghi’s Madeleine Preston.
The Prestons are the core of the show, she an Irish Catholic when Puritans have executed King Charles I and applied their religious rules to the two islands and he a younger son of an aristocratic and thus Protestant family who has come to County Kildare in Ireland for land and property and wealth, after attending Cambridge.
Preston backed the king in the English Civil War and faces the price by the vengeful Cromwell, enforced by Sturman.
Even by that time, Ireland had been an open sore on the English body politic for centuries.
Centuries later, I sat in the British House of Commons to hear a late-night debate on “the Irish Question.”
Preston maneuvers to keep his position and his land, even choosing to have his son given a Protestant first name to protect himself.
At least, he recognizes the difficult position his actions have put him in while Madeleine doesn’t, with her ties to the Resistance against Cromwell and his pogrom.
Because this is a recent play, I will skip most of the details of what happens, although I can point out some of the characters, good and bad, show principles while others don’t.
There is a message here about good and evil and the results down the centuries, issues my college Ethics teacher might have had problems about here and issues worth thinking about.
The problem with this production revolves around two indirect issues.
The acoustics in the Studio Theatre aren’t great and are aggravated here by use of variable accents by different cast members.
The combination of the two make some performers very difficult to understand.
Even so, “The Clearing” is worth seeing for its view of the roots of evil.
And, if you are interested, the script is on sale in the Festival Theatre bookstore.
I bought one.
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