PICT Classic Theatre’s ‘Woman and Scarecrow’ confronts life — and the leaving of it

Karen Baum, Sharon Brady and Nike Doukas in Marina Carr's Woman and Scarecrow. Photo by Jasmine Goldband

Karen Baum, Sharon Brady and Nike Doukas in Marina Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow. Photo by Jasmine Goldband

by Alice Carter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When she was a child, actress Karen Baum’s primal fear of something in the closet kept her from sleeping with the door to her bedroom closet open.

She still doesn’t.

Contemporary Irish playwright Marina Carr’s dark, comical tragedy “Woman and Scarecrow,” being presented through Aug. 2 by Pict Classic Theatre, creates real and symbolic presences for that fear of the unknown.

In “Woman and Scarecrow,” a woman is dying and something menacing is waiting in the wardrobe, sucking on his oily black feathers.

It’s up to Baum’s character, Scarecrow, to fend off what lurks there while she helps Woman, played by Nike Doukas, come to terms with what she’s leaving behind and the mystery of what comes next.

In early scenes, the audience may be uncertain exactly who these characters are and exactly what’s happening.

Is Scarecrow a guardian or a menace? Does Scarecrow actually exist or is she Woman’s drug-induced delusion?

Are the visits from Him (James FitzGerald) and Auntie Ah (Sharon Brady) taking place in real time, or are they memories or maybe wishful fantasies created in Woman’s mind?

These are some of the questions that the performers and director Alan Stanford had to answer before the audience gets to confront them.

“When you start off, it seems esoteric. But it’s not so much difficult as fun brainstorming, seeing where it goes,” Baum says.

“To me, what’s happening is (Woman’s) final seconds of the final hour before she breathes her last and (some are) memories of conversations she has had before and other things that are literally happening. She is having a conversation with herself and what does she want to feel and say about how she lived her life,” Doukas says. “People will be very confused and then just surrender … like any play, you accept the conversations and (go with) what’s happening.”

Longtime Pict Classic Theatre audience members may recall that the company produced Carr’s “Portia Coughlan” in 2001.

Stanford chose “Woman and Scarecrow” for the third play of his first season as artistic and executive director of Pict Classic Theatre because of its exploration of the one event in life everyone shares — the leaving of it.

“It’s about life and what’s precious about life. It’s a complex, exquisite play,” Stanford says. “Classic theater is the art of exposing people, bringing humans face-to-face with their selves by telling their stories.

“Carr is a very modern playwright who comes from the tradition of Irish storytelling. To my mind, she is, at this moment in time, the finest expression of Irish playwriting. She just pulls it together time after time and has a unique writing style.”

Audience members and others will have several opportunities to meet Carr during the opening days of “Woman and Scarecrow.”

She will attend the July 12 opening-night performance and the reception that follows and join the cast and Stanford in a talkback that will begin around 4:15 p.m. July 13 after the 2 p.m. matinee.

At 7 p.m. July 13, Carr will read selections from her plays “Marble,” “By the Bog of Cats,” “The Cordelia Dream” and “16 Possible Glimpses” in the Henry Heymann Theatre. Admission is free.

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