The play would succeed on its own, even without knowing that it's a loose adaptation of the myth of Medea. You remember Medea, the woman who killed her children after her husband left her for another woman. But the situation is a little more complicated than that, and this story plays out a little differently. The Medea character here is a woman named Hester Swane, whose pain at the loss of her mother when she was young haunts her relationship with her daughter, Josie, with her long-time love Carthage Kilbride. They never officially married, and now Carthage is set to marry Caroline Cassidy, the young daughter of a wealthy landowner, and hence inherit the land. Adding insult to injury, Carthage is kicking Hester and Josie out of their home, even though Hester long ago loaned Carthage the money to buy his first property. The entire community seems to be against Hester, whom they derisively refer to as a "tinker" (slang for Irish Traveller, similar to "gypsy"). Carthage tells Hester his life would be easier if she just left, leaving Josie for Caroline and him to raise. In other words, Hester is a woman in a desperate situation, with no allies, and no apparent way out of her predicament. Desperate people do desperate things.
|mother and daughter (Emily Grodzik and Kayla Dvorak Feld)|
(photo by Alex Wohlhueter)
The bog is a place haunted by ghosts and a mysterious "Catwoman" who may practice magic (played by Meri Golden). The bog is well represented in the Crane's spacious performance space by fog constantly rolling across the stage. Bare branches hang from the high ceiling, dry brush and tree trunks fill the stage, with a wall of Hester's house on one side, everything in shades of drab gray and brown. Characters are dressed in Irish jumpers and work pants, and some modestly fancy wedding attire. In another similarity to The Banshees of Inisherin, it feels like this could be taking place today or a hundred years ago in this place on the edge of civilization. (Set design by MJ Leffler, costume design by Mandi Johnson.)
Nary a cat appears in By the Bog of Cats. But what does make an appearance are real and flawed humans, complex relationships, desperate love, and inevitable tragedy. It's not a happy story, but it's a powerful one, and beautifully told.