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Solo performance illuminates Magic’s ‘Eva Trilogy’

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Julia McNeal is excellent in the first play of Magic Theatre’s premiere “The Eva Trilogy.” (Courtesy Jennifer Reiley)
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“Eden,” the beautiful, poetic first play in Barbara Hammond’s “The Eva Trilogy,” is entirely a soliloquy, delivered on a bare stage—the purest form of theater.

And, as directed by Loretta Greco in this Magic Theatre world premiere, and performed by the luminous Julia McNeal, it is engaging from start to finish.

In it, Eva, an Irishwoman in her late 30s, sits on the stoop of her sister’s house in a seaside village, talking to herself in a seamless stream-of-consciousness that evokes James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, or Dylan Thomas’ poetry.

Eva is awaiting the arrival of the hospice worker who will relieve her, temporarily, of caring for her aged mother, who’s upstairs in bed slowly dying, in great agony, of Parkinson’s. Or so we’re meant to think, at first.

Eva left Ireland decades ago for glorious Paris; her mother now lives here, cared for by Eva’s sister and her sister’s husband, who’ve asked Eva to fill in while they take a brief vacation.

For Eva, desperate to return to Paris, this long moment on the stoop leads her to muse over her past: her childhood as one of seven siblings with a sick father and rigid Mum, youthful sexual escapades, the Catholic upbringing she’s trying to escape, her travels, a miscarriage, her regrets, her pleasures. McNeal brings it all to vibrant life.

The end of “Eden” is disturbing, unexpected yet inevitable.

But just as “Eden” is simple and eloquent and full of the rough texture of life as we live it, the following two short plays in the trilogy (the three comprise one full evening’s performance), which are slightly surreal at times, are unconvincing.

In “Enter the Roar,” set a month later, we meet the three other characters plus the conflicted family priest. As written, it’s a purposefully chaotic part of Eva’s story, a roar indeed, but it’s so stagey and over-acted that it’s hard to sort out the strands of Hammond’s deeply existential themes.

Thirty years later, in “No Coast Road,” Eva has become a hermit in remote Corsica; a young American hiker (Caleb Cabrera) stumbles upon her campsite. But Hammond’s Eva of “Eden” is now a cliché of a feisty, eccentric elder (no fault of actress or director), and the flirty-contentious relationship between young man and crone feels artificial, the contrivance of a young playwright.

A plus, though: the gorgeous pastoral set and projections by Hana S. Kim.

REVIEW

The Eva Trilogy
Presented by Magic Theatre
Where: Fort Mason, Building D, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 12
Tickets: $35 to $80
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

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