- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No one goes to her grave thinking “I’m so glad I went low carb.” We regret not having more love, more good food, more time with friends and family, more adventures — just more.

A dreamy and acidic look back at life is the theme of Irish playwright Marina Carr’s invigorating deathwatch “Woman and Scarecrow,” an American premiere at Solas Nua under the astute direction of Des Kennedy.

The terminally ill Woman (Jennifer Mendenhall), an octomom in her 40s, lies in a stark-white bed surrounded by bare branches somewhere in midlands Ireland. The Grim Reaper is waiting noisily in the wardrobe, “making a bracelet out of infant ankle bones.” All we glimpse, though, is a fearsome black wing and stray feathers. Woman’s other companion is Scarecrow (Nanna Ingvarsson), a supernatural creature and alter ego.

The poetry-laden play depicts an earthy and mordantly funny free-flowing conversation between Woman and Scarecrow, but actually it is the self talking to the soul. Woman sifts through the highs and lows of her life with a jaded and spiteful eye. She hasn’t made peace with death because she’s angry at the way she dribbled away the decades. And who can blame her? She’s saddled with a serial adulterer husband, Him (Brian Hemmingsen), such a one-dimensional jerk that he confronts her with her Visa bill when she has just minutes to live.

The other steady presence in her life is wealthy Auntie Ah (Rena Cherry Brown), a prissy dowager who tries to ram Catholicism down her throat.



Why do we choose unhappiness and drudgery? Is it because we ‘re afraid of how good liberty will taste, how dear it will cost? Woman ponders this as Scarecrow bustles around the bed like a bird flitting around a closed room. Like Chekhov heroines, the two go into death drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes. There also are echoes of Samuel Beckett’s hobos Vladimir and Estragon from “Waiting for Godot” as well as the gravediggers in “Hamlet” in the play’s rhythmic back-and-forth banter.

By the middle of the second act, the subject matter is so thoroughly mined you may long for the sleep of Morpheus yourself. However, any torpor is relieved by the bravura acting of Miss Mendenhall — who combines bitterness and passion into a combustible, palpable hunger — and Miss Ingvarsson, beautifully articulating the fight and freedom that Woman eschewed throughout her life. The death scene is as bloody as anything out of Shakespeare, yet the two actors give it breathtaking stillness and grace.

Overall, “Woman and Scarecrow” demands that we ask ourselves what is more important: how we live or how we die?

★★★½

WHAT: “Woman and Scarecrow,” by Marina Carr

WHERE: Solas Nua at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through May 31.

TICKETS: $20

PHONE: 800/494-8497

WEB SITE: www.solasnua.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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