Act 1 is preoccupied with Rebecca’s harsh milieu, which Mitchell establishes in vivid brushstrokes. His characters are not the melodic, dreamy Catholics who people Brian Friel’s plays, but an angry, cornered bunch whose threats and laments ring out in a kind of metallic, jagged free verse. It’s a wonder that Rebecca doesn’t simply go mute from her own “troubles,” which include caring for Terry’s invalid, semi-Alzheimer’s-touched mother, Rita (Rebecca Wackler), while keeping the lid on her own nail bomb of a daughter, Jenny (Amanda Deibert). (Jenny seems to live solely for rebelling against Rebecca, while worshipping Terry.) Jenny is a single mom but treats her baby like an empty pack of cigarettes, fobbing the child off on her mother so she can concentrate (not unlike Rebecca Gilman’s Lisa) on watching television.
REBECCA: Jenny, you’ve done nothing all day.
JENNY: Have I not?
REBECCA: Tell me what you’ve done.
Mitchell amply provides his audience with one of theater’s greatest treats — the spectacle of people in trouble. Problems with Loyal Women surface in Act 2, however, when Mitchell, as though sensing he hasn’t set enough plot wheels in motion, tries to pack too many motivations and conflicts into the final 50 minutes. Without giving too much away, I’ll note that Rebecca must make the play’s Big Decision because of some missing UDA money and, until this matter is resolved, cannot obtain her freedom from the group. (“They keep pulling me back in!” you can almost read in her thought balloon.) In order to sustain this potboiler twist, Mitchell must have mentally infirm Rita momentarily regain her senses — an unconvincing development at best.
This Theatre Banshee production, ably directed by Sean Branney, remains a powerful evening nonetheless, and Branney is blessed with a committed cast whose members handle their Irish accents with breathtaking ease — never a small achievement in small theater. The Act 2 confrontation between the UDA women and Adele is especially nerve-racking and no punches are pulled. Both Marcotte and Deibert stand out as family members locked in mortal combat, very much like their countrymen and women. My one quibble with this staging is that costumer Laura Brody might have clothed the actors more warmly. The play is set, after all, at Christmastime in Northern Ireland, yet most of the characters breeze in and out of Rebecca’s home looking as though they’re dressed for an afternoon of shopping in Laguna.
THE GLORY OF LIVING | By REBECCA GILMAN | Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank | Through December 22 | (818) 841-5421
LOYAL WOMEN | By GARY MITCHELL | The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank | Through December 2 | (818) 846-5323