Scenes from the Big Picture
by Owen McCafferty

August 28 - October 5, 2008
The Storefront Theatre
Gallery 37 Center for the Arts
66 E. Randolph Street

Continuing Seanachaí Theatre’s tradition of Irish storytelling, this play, by Owen McCafferty, smashes the "Big Picture" into vivid snapshots of intimate groups of people. Moving from shops to pubs to life on the street, the urban story masterfully weaves together the lives of twenty-one characters in forty scenes into a 24-hour slice of contemporary Belfast life. Originally presented by London’s Royal National Theatre in 2003, this production was the Midwest premiere.

2009 Joseph Jefferson Nomination: Ensemble

Cast & Crew  |  Reviews

Bop Torbett Jamie Abelson
Maggie Lyttle Anne Sunseri
Maeve Hynes Kat McDonnell
Joe Hynes Thomas Vincent Kelly*
Sammy Lennon Don Blair
Betty Lennon Margaret Kustermann
Connie Dean Lee Stark
Theresa Black Sarah Wellington
Dave Black Jeff Christian*
Frank Coin J David Moeller
Robbie Mullin Chris Hainsworth
Shanks O'Neill Eamonn McDonagh
Bobbie Torbett John Dunleavy*
Sharon Lawther Barbara Figgins
Helen Woods Carolyn Klein
Paul Foggarty Jeff Duhigg
Cooper Jones Niall McGinty
Swiz Murdock Zeke Sulkes
Harry Foggarty Tom Hickey
Spilo Johnston Sean Bolger
Rat Joyce Shane Kenyon
*Member of Actor's Equity Association
Director Scott Cummins
Stage Manager Nikki Lint*
Scenic Design Joey Wade
Lighting Design Nick Matonich
Sound Design Rob Steel


From the Chicago Sun Times
September 2, 2008

Cohesive cast of 21 portrays a range of townsfolk

Throughout the long years of its brutal civil war, dramas about Northern Ireland invariably dealt with the "troubles." But now that peace has become the welcome norm, plenty of troubles of a more mundane sort continue to bedevil the inhabitants. And in "Scenes From the Big Picture" - Irish playwright Owen McCafferty's vivid Belfast street-scene panorama, now in its Midwest debut by Seanachai Theatre - these ordinary woes are put in stark relief.

Seanachai, the company that for 15 seasons has made its mark celebrating the grand tradition of Irish storytelling, produces only about one show per year. But it rarely thinks small and usually does a bang-up job of things. McCafferty's three-act play, expertly orchestrated by director Scott Cummins, runs about three hours and features a superbly unified, highly individualistic, generation-spanning ensemble of 21 actors. Enhancing the storytelling is set designer Joey Wade's deft rotation of the usual Storefront Theatre layout to create a broad, multilevel playing space. Its bare brick walls become a haunting slaughterhouse backdrop, hung with sides of beef.

The slaughterhouse image recalls the city's bloody past, as well as a (financially troubled) source of local employment. It also suggests the characters' raw emotions: the tension-filled marriages, the estranged brothers who reunite to bury their dad, the labor woes facing everyone, the problems of petty crime and ugly drug trafficking, and, beyond all else, the pain of abiding human loneliness. McCafferty has winningly woven this detailed tapestry from intimate, deftly crafted scenes that can turn on a dime from tragic to comic or violent to lyrical, and that invariably hold some small element of surprise. The actors, with their largely consistent Irish accents (credit dialect coach Susan Murray Miller), are altogether convincing.

Kat McDonnell and Thomas Vincent Kelly are forceful anchors as the childless couple torn by a sense of inadequacy. Chris Hainsworth is ideal as the sleek, drug-pushing rat who terrorizes his drugged-up girlfriend (Lee Stark). Sarah Wellington is the devoted meat-factory secretary whose job saves her from brooding like her husband (Jeff Christian) over the long-ago disappearance of their son (perhaps during the "real troubles"). Carolyn Klein is spot-on as the lonely pub manager engaged in an illicit affair. So is John Dunleavy as the blarney-filled widower pursued by yet another lonely woman (Barbara Figgins).

The local teens run the gamut from decent (Jamie Abelson) to nasty (Niall McGinty and Zeke Sulkes), with Ann Sunseri as their fetching little beach goddess. Don Blair, Margret Kustermann, Eamonn McDonagh, Jeff Duhigg and Tom Hickey all have fine turns. But it is J. David Moeller, a "listener" most the time, who brings it all to a gorgeous Beckettian conclusion.

From Centerstage
September 2, 2008

A sure sign that you've experienced a great production is when, after almost three hours in the theater, you find yourself still thinking about its characters and wanting to spend more time with them. Seanachai's latest offering is that rare exquisite experience that both moves you and then haunts your memory long afterwards.

Equal parts excellent writing by Owen McCafferty, sensitive direction by Scott Cummins (complete with exceptional Irish dialects) and solid, fully realized characterizations by this skilled acting ensemble of 21 combine to create one unforgettably moving evening of adult theater. At first, the story doesn't sound all that exciting: a glimpse into the lives of about two dozen modern-day Belfast citizens during a 24-hour period (the fact that this play's set in Ireland is inconsequential since all of these tales could happen in any city around the world). But through a Robert Altman slice-of-life style of presentation, we witness several seemingly unrelated events involving a number of characters of varying ages and walks of life that, by the end, have all connected to each other. The final curtain offers no epiphany or instant solutions but we find ourselves sharing in the characters' pain and celebrating in their joy.

Given the huge cast - for this is truly an ensemble performance in its finest tradition - it's difficult to cite any one actor for his excellence. Kat McDonnell and Thomas Vincent Kelly as a childless couple whose marriage is on the rocks, Margaret Kustermann and Don Blair as a loving shopkeeper-couple in the autumn of their lives who are trying to cope with urban violence, and Sarah Wellington and Jeff Christian as a couple ripped apart by the mysterious disappearance of their young son provide each enough drama and pathos for any one play.

Yet add to this mix an arrogant drug dealer soaring high on power, his sweetly naive, ill-used girlfriend, an innocent young man trying to find himself amid the destructive, grimy urban setting, a lovely barkeep whose secret affair with a married man is going nowhere, two estranged brothers brought together by their father's death, three old friends who rekindle allegiances and navigate differences at the nearby pub, two heartless punks attempting to assert themselves in a hopeless setting and one dear, elderly gentleman who is pining for his long-departed wife as the sky showers him in falling stars and you have a stirring saga of the human condition. Making the production tighter and more communal, the cast serve as stagehands, prop masters and silent observers of the action. This play should not be missed because once seen, this Irish reality drama will not be forgotten.

From Time Out Chicago
September 11, 2008

Hard to believe, perhaps, that the election-cycle play that best represents the wants and needs of the elusive "everyday Americans" comes from Northern Ireland. But if we could send a candidate who’s lost count of how many houses he owns to the theater for a primer on the concerns of small-town America, we’d buy him tickets to a play about Belfast.

McCafferty’s epic-yet-pointillist portrait depicts a single day in a city cut down by economic and sectarian conflict, where drugs are a major currency and the fortunes of many ride on dead-end jobs in a meat plant. Cummins deftly choreographs a cast of 21 adroitly affecting actors who sit among the audience when not onstage, as if to reinforce that their struggles - making payroll, putting food on the table, finding satisfaction amid frustrating circumstances - are universal.

With so many characters to make distinct - plant workers and wives, shopkeepers, teenage thugs, pub drunks and drug dealers - the playwright’s momentum takes a while to build, but by the third act, when the camera has pulled back to let us see the butterfly-wing ripples that connect each scenario to the next, the big picture comes into sharp focus. McCafferty and the seamless ensemble subtly, skillfully suggest the scenes’ often unseen links.

Lay Me Down Softly | The Seafarer | Hughie
In Pigeon House | A Moon for the Misbegotten | The Shadow of a Gunman
That Was Then | The Weir | Dancing at Lughnasa | Mojo Mickybo | Our Father
Scenes from the Big Picture | War | A Whistle in the Dark | Bold Girls | Drink Me
Journey's End | Calamity Meat | Dylan | The Pagans | A Night in November | Marked Tree
Translations | Chekhov in Yalta | The Clearing | And Neither Have I Wings To Fly...

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