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[whitespace] Prim and Proper: Triona (Catherine Walsh) is the picture of suburban propriety.

Photograph by Pat Kirk

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Three generations meet across the years in 'Love in the Title'

By Heather Zimmerman

IN A MEADOW in County Limerick, Ireland, a '90s woman named Katie gets a literal take on that infamous parental catch phrase "back when I was your age ... ." On a visit to the Irish countryside to do research for her thesis, Katie has a fantastical meeting among herself, in 1999 at age 37; her mother, Triona, at age 30 in 1964; and her mother's mother, Cat, at age 20 in 1932. Through these three women, playwright Hugh Leonard explores the many social changes in Ireland within one century in his play Love in the Title, performed by members of Ireland's Abbey Theatre in collaboration with San José Repertory Theatre.

Director Patrick Mason keeps the show buzzing with a lively hum of activity--no small feat, considering the entire play is one long conversation at a family reunion. This small ensemble piece showcases some talented performers who bring to life three very diverse characters who reflect the ideas of their respective time periods: Karen Ardiff plays Cat with an undeniably appealing free-spiritedness. Cat's daughter, Triona (Catherine Walsh), is the picture of suburban propriety, and Walsh portrays Triona as at least half again as prim as her fussy suit and white gloves, as if perhaps conservative attitudes prevailed even more strongly in Ireland during the '60s than they had in the past. Just the opposite, Katie (Ingrid Craigie) shows a modern, "cosmopolitan" disregard for just about everything that her mother and grandmother place high importance upon, in particular marriage and children.

All three women do share a propensity for bluntly speaking their minds, a family trait which leads to standard family arguments, except that, given the age differences of the women, sometimes the roles are amusingly reversed. Both Cat and Triona show plenty of curiosity about their futures, asking Katie many questions. But disappointingly, Leonard doesn't allow Katie to have much interest in learning anything from the past; rather, she compares it unfavorably with the time she lives in. It's certainly true that much has changed for the better, especially for women. In particular, because of her own sufferings as an unwanted child, Cat is painfully astonished to learn that 60 years in the future, illegitimate children are no longer treated as outcasts. But the fact that Katie shows little interest in things she might not have known about the past also says a lot about our own time. She seems more interested in making accusations about her own mother's failings than learning much about why her mother had such shortcomings.

Katie is a novelist, but in discussing her work, she claims that she could never be a playwright because the characters in plays must undergo a "sea change," and the characters in her novels never do. Likewise, there are no real transformations for the characters in this play, only a unique convergence of three slices of contemporary Irish history that show that while attitudes and ideas slowly change, mother-daughter relationships remain as complex--and universal--as ever.

Love in the Title plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm through April 9 at the San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $17-$35. (408.367.7255)

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From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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