Rogue Theater Play Mixes Tragedy and Humor in ‘Through the Cat Bog’ | Entertainment
Greek mythology meets Celtic lore in “By the Bog of Cats,” currently on stage at the Rogue Theater.
The 1998 play by Marina Carr, one of Ireland’s leading playwrights, uses Euripides’ “Medea” as a launching pad. It’s a dark place to start – ‘Medea’, first produced in 431 BCE, is a barbarian who exacts revenge on her husband by killing his children.
But like “Medea,” “By the Bog of Cats” is about more than a mother doing horrible things.
“Medea” versus “Through the bog of cats”: “In both cases, the central figure is an outsider and rejected by the community,” explains the director Joseph McGrath. “Medea is a barbarian and Hester Swane is a gypsy.” He thinks the playwright wasn’t looking to remake ‘Medea’, but rather to “find out why she did this (kill her child). We see the world from the perspective of the rejected woman. Euripides did not make Medea a likeable character. Hester, however, is one, McGrath said. “The death of (his daughter) Josie becomes a force of nature; it is a disaster that we believe should be avoided somehow, as opposed to an evil that we wave our finger at. Hester feels she is saving Josie from the horrible life she had to endure.
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The story: Hester Swane is a traveler – or gypsy, as they are sometimes called – and she and her 7-year-old daughter, Josie, live in the often eerie bogs of rural Ireland, a land to which she is deeply connected. Hester’s life is haunted by betrayal – by her mother and her lover, the father of her child, who both abandoned her. Hester is about to be kicked out of her home, her lover is about to marry another woman, and she is haunted by ghosts and consumed with revenge. The play mixes supernatural, religious and mystical elements with earthly people and fierce human emotions.
Characters: Besides Hester and Josie, the room is populated by a community of delicious Irishmen: Her lover, Carthage, who abandoned her to marry a woman with money; Carthage’s mother, Mrs. Kilbride, who hates Josie and Hester, but adores her son; Monica Murray, a neighbor of Hester and a soothing voice in her life; the Catwoman, who wears a cat fur coat, is part creature and acts as Hester’s spirit mother; the Ghost Fancier, who predicts Hester’s death at the start of the play; the ghost of Joseph Swane — Hester’s brother, whom she killed in a fit of jealousy — he is not happy about and torments his sister; and Xavier, a rich farmer and father of Caroline, whom Carthage is going to marry.
Humor: A dark piece like this needs humor to stay afloat, and there’s plenty of it, says McGrath. “As I walked around the room and followed the lines of Hester and Medea, I was so thrilled with how Carr introduced the comedic elements, which makes it easy to move. … I once had an instructor who says ‘you will never cry for a character who made you laugh.’ (The humor) is one of the things that makes this so full and rich and charming.
The “foreign” element: “I think the idea of the outsider is an important aspect of the story,” McGrath says. “You can see something from the foreigner’s perspective, and I think that will allow us to give some sympathy to the foreigner.”
This has a particularly strong resonance today, he adds.
“To some degree, we are all strangers trying to be understood in one way or another. … Nowadays, with immigration and diversity issues, understanding the stranger is increasingly important.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at [email protected] or 572-4128. On Twitter: @kallenStar