April 1, 2019
BY R. J. DONOVAN
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
The philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Hub Theatre Company of Boston is launching its seventh season this month with Helen Edmundson’s “The Clearing,” a captivating drama that recalls a time in history that should never be forgotten. Performances run from April 5 to April 20.
The play is set in Ireland in 1652. King Charles I has been executed and Oliver Cromwell has just led a vicious reign of terror as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.
The curse of Cromwell came as an English invasion of Ireland. His hostility to the Irish was both religious and political. Locals were driven onto barren land while the English took over their homes. Ethnic cleansing, forced deportation, and guerrilla warfare were all part of the heinous activity.
Given this historic treachery, Edmundson has fashioned a passionate love story between Robert, an Englishman, and Madeleine, a local Irish woman. Their loyalties are tested and their lives forever changed by the divisive politics and prejudices of the time.
Daniel Bourque, Hub Theater Company’s Associate Artistic Director, is directing the Boston production. The play first came to Bourque’s attention almost two decades ago when he attended a production at Hartford Stage Company.
He is a self-professed lover of Irish drama and literature. Not long ago, he staged a reading of “An Apple A Day,” a nearly forgotten 1942 black comedy by the Irish novelist and playwright Elizabeth Connor.
With tongue-in-cheek, Bourque notes that he has directed plays in bars, churches, a tent, a barn, and the occasional theater.
In actuality, the acclaimed Bourque has an extensive history running from the Westport Playhouse and Capital Repertory Theatre to being a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and Directors Lab West.
When this production of “The Clearing” was announced, he said of the play “. . . it is about love, war, conquest, immigration, morality, the rule of a tyrant vs. the rule of law, the place of women in society, and making difficult choices in perilous times. In other words, everything that is occurring in the world right now, both at home and abroad.”
We spoke about the play during a break in his day. Here’s an edited look at our chat.
Q. This play has been a long time coming to Boston, hasn’t it?
A. I first saw this show when I was an undergrad . . . This would have been 1998 or ’99, and I remember being so impressed by it, by what a powerful piece of drama it was . . . Then maybe five years ago there was a production of it done in Wellesley. So it sort of popped back up on my radar. And over the last couple of years I’ve had the script and I’ve been saying we want to find a time to do this! When we were pitching shows for this season, I said how about “The Clearing?” Everybody read it and reacted really well to it and here we are.
Q. What makes this play stand out for you?
A. It stands out for a lot of reasons. First of all, it’s about a very important historical event, and I think you can draw all kinds of parallels to the world today . . . It’s a great story about women. The relationship between husband and wife –- the English husband who came to Ireland, basically as a settler, as a farmer -- and then the Irish wife, and how the conflicts in the play then tear these people apart. You can draw all kinds of parallels. What happened when Cromwell went into Ireland; all the talk about immigration now. It’s still very relevant.
Q. Two of the supporting characters are seen as members of the “proper” English group, but ultimately, even they are not safe.
A. These people were told when they emigrated from England to Ireland, “Oh you go here, this is what we want, the government wants this, here are resources, here’s land.” They were basically going along, minding their own business. Suddenly they find themselves in this huge conflict and being accused of treason, basically just for being there, or for having taken part in the war at all.
Q. The play has a very strong female voice. Some say it’s feminist-tinged. Do you?
A. It absolutely is. The lead character (Madeleine), it’s really sort of her story, her awakening in this world, in this very male-centered world.
Q. Even though the political battle exists more off-stage than on, do audiences need to be familiar with Cromwell and his purge?
A. No. I mean the conflicts in it are so present day. Life and love, war and morality, making difficult choices in difficult times. It’s like many of Shakespeare’s plays. You can see them and it doesn’t matter if you know much about the history of it. You’re still taken by the very human scale of things that are happening in it.
Q. This 17th century brutality is not necessarily a significant part of our own educational landscape.
A. It’s been interesting to me in terms of just thinking about this world-shattering event, the repercussions of which are still being felt today -- how little people know . . . Which is not necessarily true if you’re of Irish ancestry. A friend of mine, an actor, said when he read the play, “Oh, Dan, I think about this every day. I spit every time I hear that man’s name.”
Q. What do you all want audiences to take away from “The Clearing?”
A. I always say, in terms of theater, when I do a show like this, I’m not doing it for a specific political reason. I want people to think. I want people to talk. I want people to have some understanding. I want people to try to examine the issues a little deeper.
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“The Clearing,” April 5 – April 20, Hub Theater Company, First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough St., Boston. All tickets are Pay-What-You-Can. Donations of non-perishable food items will be collected at each performance for local charities. hubtheatreboston.org.