Stage Preview: Journey into the Irish countryside with ‘Sive’ at the Union Project – Tribune-Review

by SALLY QUINN | Tribune-Review

Pict Classic Theatre ends its season with a John B. Keane Pittsburgh premiere.

The Pict audience was first introduced to the Irish playwright two years ago to popular acclaim with “Sharon’s Grave.” Though not well known here, Keane has been one of the most acclaimed playwrights in his homeland since the 1960s.

This time around, the title is “Sive” (rhymes with hive), running May 4 to 20 at Union Project in Highland Park. The play, first performed in 1985, takes place in the desolately poor countryside of County Kerry in the 1950s. Sive is a teenage girl, still in school, who lives with her grandmother, her uncle and his wife. Sive is the illegitimate niece, whose mother died in childbirth.

“They live in a small cottage with a very small plot of land and they are on the edge of survival all the time,” says Alan Stanford, Pict artistic and executive director, who directs this production. “Money is very scarce.”

A matchmaker intervenes and says he’s found Sive a husband — a much older, well-off farmer who is not only willing to forgo a dowry, but he will pay them 200 pounds for the beautiful girl.

“They look at it and they think about it,” Stanford says. “And what is the play about? Money.”

The couple agrees, much to the anguish of Sive, who is in love with a handsome young man.

“Needless to say, being an Irish play, it doesn’t end happily,” Stanford says. “John B. Keane as a writer is a genius in the sense that he does write about the hardships and the difficulties of life, but he does also write about the joy and the fun and the absurdity.”

Part of the wit comes from visiting tinkers, who in the 1950s still traveled the country roads in horse-drawn caravans.

“The travelers in this, the tinkers, act as kind of news bearers,” Stanford says. “It’s like they’re the local newspaper. And John B. does a wonderful thing. He has two of them, a father and son. And where the father tells the news, the son sings it. It’s so clever and it’s very beautiful.”

More beauty is found in the language, he says, an additional challenge for the actors who perform with a Kerry accent.

The cast includes James Fitzgerald as the matchmaker, Martin Giles as the elder tinker, Cassidy Adkins as Sive and Michael Fuller and Karen Baum as the uncle and aunt.

As with other productions this season, “Sive” will be presented in the alley space of Union Project, with the audience on both sides of the space.

“This time, we’re literally building an Irish cottage into the middle of the theater,” says Stanford, praising the work of stage designer Johnmichael Bohach. “It would be as if the roof and side walls were taken off, so you’re literally looking into a cottage.”

From the critical and public acclaim that Keane’s “Sharon’s Grave” received, Stanford expects this production to do well.

“Now people in Pittsburgh have heard of him and they love him,” he says of the playwright. “I think they will really enjoy this one.”