Fringe shows take us around the world and “Burning Bridget Cleary” brings us to Ireland at the end of the 19th century. The effective set establishes the tone of the play as you enter the theatre –– evocative fireplace, rustic furnishings, the daily chores of 1895 being attended to. We quickly meet the smart, cheeky, headstrong Bridget Cleary (beautifully portrayed by Lily MacLean), just back from the market having successfully sold all of her eggs, and at a good price. She’s also a handy seamstress and has fashioned a bustle out of chicken wire, to the chagrin of her family and neighbours.
As Bridget’s slight cough worsens, it’s clear she isn’t well. Aunt Mary, played by Danette Mackay who has all the choice lines in the delicious language of this play, is summoned. At this point, any of the lighter quality and humour in the piece stops and it all moves rather fast from here. The god-fearing neighbour Jack Dunn, who still incorporates pagan superstitions into his beliefs, declares that this is no longer Bridget, but a fairy changeling in her place, and she must be killed in order for the true Bridget to reappear. Loving husband Michael reluctantly realizes that Dunn’s queries about Bridget’s behaviour are right—she is bold, focused on money, fervent in her ideas and moving towards modern thinking. Though Bridget begs to have the actual doctor fetched, her pleas are unheeded. Finally, she is set alight. At a brief court trial, Michael and others are sentenced to jail for their part in her murder.
As we absorb the gruesome act just witnessed, the stage is cleared and Bridget reappears; a beautiful image, wearing wings crafted of long, thin branches. Though mesmerizing to watch MacLean use the space and inhabit her emotions, the poem she performs by Emma Bleker is too obscure and disjointed to draw me in. There are some lovely imagistic descriptions, but they get lost in muddled passages.
Burning Bridget Cleary might be set in Ireland in the late 1800s, but the idea of the ‘hysterical’ woman is still present today, often demeaning those who dare to rise up. Kudos to playwright/director Darragh Mondoux who has taken a true account, and without changing the story, has held it up to the light showing us there is still a way to go. Her company, Heart of Gold Productions, is committed to telling strange stories of history to better understand the strangeness that endures in our present. Outside of theatre, Mondoux studied at the School of Irish Studies at Concordia University and achievements include analyzing feminist revisionist narratives. This story is clearly one from her heart.
Heart of Gold Productions presents “Burning Bridget Cleary”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: June 8 – 15, 2019
Venue: 06 – MainLine Theatre
3997 ,Saint-Laurent Montréal, H2W 1Y4
Admission: $8 – 10 | Ages 12+
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