James Thompson & Lindsey Jones in Hyacinth Halvey of Irish Hill. Photo: The Chamber Theatre

Hyacinth Halvey of Irish Hill

Adapted & directed by Michelle Lori from Lady Augusta Gregory’s Hyacinth Halvey

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Lady Augusta Gregory wrote a play, Hyacinth Halvey, “a comedy about a man who seeks to attain a dishonorable reputation to escape from giving a cultural speech at the village festival. Try as he might, however, he only succeeds in drawing praise and admiration.”

It is all very Irish, so it makes sense that a native-born Irish theatre artist would produce a new adaptation and that this particular Irishman, Martin French, never saw a non-theatrical space in which he didn’t want to produce a play. He also likes to mess with classic texts ( Clash of the Woyzecks), so let us not feign surprise to find his comrade in arts Michelle Lori directing this production, updated to the Irish Hill neighborhood of Louisville in the 1920s in the outdoor breezeway of Commonwealth Theatre Center.

Director Lori’s curtain speech erroneously imagines a first-time use of the space for a production; not quite accurate as Walden Theatre more than once ventured to stage here where the sun sets behind the building. But she uses the 2nd-floor windows and aging brick face to evoke the period. It’s good stuff, and she works to keep a snappy pace in the early summer air.

Hyacinth. What to make of this name, of Greek origin and traditionally a female, when introduced as the character in this production? Actor James Thompson steers clear of any gender questions, but Hyacinth has quickly tired of a somewhat dubious reputation for being of sterling, unapproachable character and wants to be disreputable. The Irish Hill neighborhood, in the form of Postmistress Delaney Dougherty (Anna Meade), cooper James Quirke (Marc McHone), local Joyce Jeffers (Rena Cherry Brown), and Officer Carden (Jay Padilla-Hayter), embraces him a little too warmly. Neither Hyacinth nor Carden is Irish, but everyone else attempts some kind of brogue with various results, from Barry Fitzgerald’s burlesque to the Daniel-Day Lewis school of study.

Whatever the plot machinations, in which Hyacinth’s every effort to perpetrate evil is completely misunderstood as self-less heroism, this version is actually about the friendship between him and Fairdy Farrell (Lindsey Jones), a scheming message delivery boy who is the only person to sympathize with Hyacinth’s dilemma. Jones subtly navigates the move from near-con artist to seeker, providing nuance to her own performance and giving James Thompson more to play as Hyacinth than the comedy. To my ear, Jones also managed the most consistent dialect. Thompson’s innate quality of decency gives a satirical edge to his character’s desire to be up tp no good.

The remainder of the ensemble does fine work, with good laughs from most everything Marc McHone does (and best use of the 2nd-floor window), Anna Meade embodying the delicate but tough Irish rose, Jay Padilla-Hayter, however improbable, making us believe she is the forceful local constabulary. Rena Cherry Brown reminds us what a talented veteran looks like. Less is asked of Stephanie Hall except to play the flute, which she does very well in delightful interludes with Jones on harmonica.

Whatever the popularity of outdoor theatre, the exposure, street noise, and heat can undermine all of the skill and effort of a talented cast. Yet, the real and immediate paved and brick environment was just the right mixture of urban and nature, with active birdsong dominating the sound design more than street noise.

See Hyacinth Halvey of Irish Hill for the whimsy, see it to compare the dialects, see it to watch theatre in the open, fresh air before the summer heats up, see it to support local theatre produced by artists who get nothing from the doing except the edification of exercising their talents in front of an appreciative audience, however small.

Featuring Rena Cherry Brown, Stephanie Hall, Lindsey Jones, Marc McHone, Anna Meade, Jay Padilla-Hayter, & James Thompson 

Hyacinth Halvet of Irish Hill

June 13, 14, 17, 18, 19 & 20 @ 7:00 pm 

The Chamber Theatre
at Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 47150

Keith Waits
 is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.