The Irish Repertory Theatre continues their fall 2020 season with the Performance on Screen of Give Me Your Hand: A Poetical Stroll Through the National Gallery of London, running October 13-October 18. Give Me Your Hand features poems by Paul Durcan, is directed by Jamie Beamish, and stars two of Ireland’s finest actors, Dermot Crowley & Dearbhla Molloy.
I confess to not looking forward to this presentation, thinking I had been to the National Gallery a million times, and how could anyone make anything theatrical about such a place? I expected boredom.
I could not have been more wrong.
This production of Give Me Your Hand is positively delightful, not least because the moment Crowley and Molloy open their mouths, you know immediately you are in the hands of brilliance. They have chemistry, though they never touch. They are matched with brilliant material, furnished by Durcan.
The staging reminds me of “Love Letters,” by A.R. Gurney, with a man and a woman on either side of the stage, reading from a script, not referring to one another. But there the resemblance ends. Durcan has selected paintings and then put imaginative poems to those paintings: poems which are often funny, wry, sexy, heart-wrenching. Poems which reach across generations to the contemporary and the immediate.
“Portrait of a Lady in Yellow” by Alessio Baldovinetti, becomes a mourning song for her mother, played by Molloy, who has lost her daughter to an IRA bombing.
“Interior with a Sleeping Maid and her Mistress” by Nicolaes Maes, is told from the point of view of the mistress (also Molloy) complaining about her maid and her wealthy husband, which evokes issues of class and how things have not changed very much today.
“Lord Ribblesdale” by John Singer Sargent, is told in the Lord’s haughty voice, which Crowley conveys superbly, forgiving judgement thrust upon him due to his status, when all he wants is to go into the wilderness, tear off his clothes and mourn his lost sons and his lost wife.
Sometimes, two paintings are selected, and their stories intertwine. These were my favorite.
“The Arnolfini Marriage,” by Jan Van Eyck, begins with Molly and Crowley in hilarious unison:
We are the Arnolfinis. /Do not think you may invade/Our privacy because you may not. /We are standing to our portrait/The most erotic portrait ever made/ Because we have faith in the artist/To do justice to the plurality/Fertility,domesticity, barefootedness/Of a man and a woman saying ‘we’:
The poem carries on, alternating stanzas between husband and wife.
Then there is the raucous “Samson and Delilah II” by Rubens. Crowley begins by saying:
I am a master barber/Trained in Cleveland, Ohio
But Delilah’s Molloy has other things on her mind:
He make the big love.
Sorry, one specific thing on her mind:
He do the whole intercourse –/Not just middle/But beginning end middle./He jump up, he jump down./He carry me around room./ He put me down./He caress me.//He lie under me./He lie over me./He drink me./He eat me./He wait for me until I am so far out/I think I am going to vanish my throat.
Again, this is definitely not the evening I had anticipated, so Bravo Irish Rep!! Again, I was completely, utterly, totally wrong. Paul Durcan’s poetry is far from stuffy. It is full of passion, humor, sadness. The paintings come alive in the imaginative vision of Durcan. The venue – in this case, the National Gallery – need not be theatrical; the theatrical nature of the paintings depends on the eye of the beholder. I would love to see Dermot Crowley and Dearbhla Molloy in an actual (virtual will suffice for now) play at the Irish Repertory Theatre. These two can do anything. And I would watch them do anything. But they need the text. And in this case, the text comes from singular mind of Paul Durcan.
Editor: Mary Folliet