Through October 15|
BELFAST GIRLS Andrews Theatre/Irish Classical Theatre Company
By Augustine Warner
Details are unclear through the mists of time.
Perhaps a million people died in the Irish potato famine and perhaps two million fled across the world in hopes of a better life.
That’s from a population around nine-million.
They were people like my great grandparents who went to Canada, passing through the vast cemetery which is Grosse Isle in the St. Lawrence River, the Customs post for travelers entering the Dominion in the early decades of the 19th Century.
There are so many people buried there that the numbers and names are mostly lost.
But, the U.S. and Canada aren’t the only destinations.
Jaki McCarrick’s “Belfast Girls” is a look at another piece of the vast migration from the Emerald Isle, here women of “good character” to populate Australia, then a citizenry of eight men to every woman.
Over the few years of the migration, more than four-thousand women made the three-month trip, with some not of the best character but anxious to survive.
Here, they apparently received matching dresses and underwear for the trip.
This production in the Irish Classical Theatre’s Andrews Theatre is built around five of the women and a proliferation of narrating voices and singing from Megan Callahan.
The five aren’t friends and don’t become friends, bonded only by the stress of the voyage.
The set is different, a ratty compartment on a ship which barely floats on the long journey.
Refugees across the Atlantic called them “coffin ships.”
It’s a wonderful set from David Dwyer, right up to the Inchinnan rigging.
One thing I found hard to believe is that all five can read and also speak English.
Neither was that common in colonial Ireland.
There’s also the passenger who appears to be reading from Marx or Engels, before they published..
This occasionally appears like a modern movie and perspective transplanted to some scene of the past.
There is enough personal contact that the credits list Shelby Converse as fight choreographer & intimacy director.
We get a sense of each traveler as the show goes on, like Hannah Gibney’s (Robyn Baun) history of being sold by her father into prostitution.
The five women clearly want their personal histories erased by the long sea voyage, to start new lives in the vastness of Australia.
One, Solange Gosselin’s Molly Durcan, apparently suffered an attack from a male on the ship, leaving her beaten and possibly brain-damaged, not long before the arrival.
She arrives in a state of confusion, with bloody bandages around her head.
In the end, the five are standing and looking at Australia, perhaps on the ship deck or on a dock, talking about where they are from and what they hope to do.
Director Kyle LoConti has a strong cast, Baun and Gosselin, Lily Jones, Cassie Cameron and Renee Landrigan.
There is a monument to the survivors of the Famine, the Great Hunger, hidden away in Downtown Buffalo which was the destination of so many Irish refugees heading across the Atlantic.
Many shortly wound up in the Union Army in the Civil War, to hold the new country together for their future, people like my great-uncles who served at Gettysburg.
One is buried there.
In this time when immigration is a national political issue, “Belfast Girls” shows why immigrants wrench away their families and family histories to create a better future.
It’s worth seeing.
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