THE MAGDALEN WHITEWASHby Valerie Goodwin
Broken Gears Project Theatre
Directed by Nathan Autrey
Stage Manager - Parissa Leduc
Producer - Joey Folsom
Audra Howard - Girl/Nancy
Lauren Morgan - Mary (older)
Mary Jerome - Mary (younger)
Sasha McGonnell - Sister Ignatia
Whitney Holotik - Bernadette
Cassie Bann - Martha
Lorina Lipscomb - Assumpta
Loren Roark - Angela/waitress
Lulu Ward - Marie
Alexandra Valle - Pauline
Terry Yates - Father Doyle
Erica Harte - Sister Margaret
Abel Flores - Jim
Alex Krus - Donal
Jenny King - Sister Gabriel
Nancy Lamb - Mother Superior/Mrs. Doolan
Mardi Robinson - Patricia
Reviewed Performance: 3/3/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Set up in the early 19th century, the "Laundries", as they were later referred, were first used to rehabilitate prostitutes, deemed to need a better trade, back into society. Later on, family members (mostly men) would send their unwed pregnant daughters and girlfriends, mentally challenged, and abused girls to these institutions, mainly run by Catholic nuns. When no one vouched for or came back for them, these state-sanctioned institutions became prisons for the women/girls where the nuns encouraged them to remain, as the business of laundering was profitable for the convents. Many of them remained there the remainder of their lives, buried in unmarked graves. The asylums were located not only in Ireland but across Europe, Britain, Canada and the United States. Unbelievably, the last asylum was closed in 1996.
Titling her play most appropriately, Valerie Goodwin wrote The Magdalen Whitewash about one such institution. Goodwin, along with other playwrights, filmmakers, musicians and poets, chronicled the horrors when the public was made "aware" in 1993. Time set in both 1919 and 1934, it focused on eight "Maggies", as the women/girls were labeled, and in particular, on Mary who we saw arrive at age thirteen and then fifteen years later.
Broken Gears Project Theatre condensed the two act play into one, and compacted several locations onto one small playing area. Laundry room, dorm beds, convent parlor, dining hall, outdoor clothes line and small caf? were all onstage as actors maneuvered through each scene. Director Nathan Autrey projected photographs of some of the real women at their labor with what I guessed was poetry written on the subject. In the beginning, dimly-lit actors moved between several "still vignettes", and it was only later I realized they were images of the girls with family, boyfriends and the "acts" that led to their incarceration.
The roles for the ensemble of eight Maggies were fairly equal with each having a scene or two to enrich their characters. Standout performances came from several. Lauren Morgan, as the older, now institutionalized Mary, made it abundantly clear that Mary knew exactly what had been done to her and her defiance to not leave was from both anger and fear of the outside world she no longer understood. Whitney Holotik, as Bernadette, who had given up her baby ten years before, showed both Bernadette's leader strength and mother vulnerability, willing to grovel at the feet of the priest who held her secret.
Martha, played by Cassie Bann, was all red-haired brass, who continued plotting her release by any means, then exuded desperation with her true fate. Alexandra Valle's grace and gentleness as the soon to be mother, Pauline, was equaled with the heart-breaking realization that she was going to be left behind. The powerful scene with her mother brought several in the audience to tears and sniffles.
In a clear delineation between sides, the sisters of the convent and the parish priests brought back vivid memories only those who attended parochial school would understand. Sister Ignatia, as played by Sasha McGonnell, was all uptight duty and no fuss as to the business of the laundry as much as to "betterin' the girls". Sadly left out of the program, the actor who played Father O'Connell was nasty and perverse and left no doubt he held his and many a girl's secret and destiny in his slimy hands. Terry Yates was wholesome Father Doyle, always trying to aid the women's plight. He was portrayed as bumbling and ineffectual and I'm not so certain he should have been made humorous.
The Magdalen Whitewash obviously concerns a serious and volatile subject. However, at only 75 minutes, the pace was so heavy, it seemed much longer. An easy to fall into mistake was directing the actors to perform "about the subject" instead of "in the subject". The audience already understood the difficult conditions of these women. Rather than physically plodding around with bent heads and down-cast eyes, we would have been more engaged observing the mental capacity to deal with their individual situations.
Broken Gears Project Theatre's production is a solid piece of theatre. It is timely, coming on the heels of "newly discovered" scandals and atrocities in both political and religious realms. Though only performing two more times at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, they will continue The Magdalen Whitewash at their own theatre through March. A worthy subject matter is always worth the viewing.
Broken Gears Project Theatre
Plays through March 26th
Sunday, March 6th at 2 pm and Sunday, March 13th at 5 pm, both at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival
Watertower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Tickets $10-$20 or the Loop pass at $65 for all shows.
Call 972-450-6232 or go to www.watertowertheatre.org
Continuing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays March 17th - 26th at 8 pm.
Broken Gears Project Theatre, 3819 Fairmount, Dallas, TX 75219