Andrew Garavel on an Unfairly Forgotten Irish Playwright

Just as interesting as Andrew J. Garavel's review of the "new" play "Temporal Powers" is the story of its recovery and the unfairly forgotten Irish playwright, Teresa Deevy.  Fr. Garavel, a Jesuit priest and assistant professor of English at Santa Clara, is also something of a specialist on Irish literature; and he gives the play and the playwright its--and her--due.  

Thanks to Internet projects like Google Books, older, lesser-known texts that had been hard to find outside a research library are now more available to scholars and general readers. But what about plays meant, of course, to be acted before audiences? For the past several years the Mint Theater in New York has set itself the task of “unearthing, presenting and preserving forgotten plays of merit,” often by neglected playwrights, sometimes the lesser-known works of more familiar writers. Just steps away from Times Square but far removed in spirit from the tourist attractions of Broadway, the Mint performs the valuable role of enriching the theater’s sense of its own past by sketching in the gaps between the big, bankable names. The theater’s artistic director, Jonathan Bank, has done an admirable job of literary archaeology, bringing to light dramatists who, for one reason or another, have not made it into the theatrical canon.

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That applies in spades to the author of the Mint’s current offering, “Temporal Powers,” which has been extended through Oct. 9.  Indeed, before last year’s fine production of her play “Wife to James Whelan” by the same company, it is probably no exaggeration to say that those who had even heard of Teresa Deevy (1894-1963) could have fit comfortably into the Mint’s small space on West 43rd Street. Her obscurity is perhaps more remarkable because she did enjoy a brief period of renown. Born in Waterford, Ireland, the youngest of thirteen, she was stricken in her teens by Meniere’s disease, and by the time she reached 20 she had lost her hearing. Deevy went to London to learn lip-reading and reinforced her lessons by going to the theater to watch the actors enunciate. She turned to writing plays, and in 1932 “Temporal Powers” took first prize in a new play contest at the Abbey Theatre, founded a generation earlier by William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, the Irish dramatist.

Through the 1930s the Abbey mounted a number of Deevy’s plays, and audiences not only in Dublin but in London and America saw her popular “Katie Roche” (which will be staged next year as part of the Mint Theater’s ongoing “Teresa Deevy Project”). In 1939 Macmillan published a collection of her plays, and she seemed on her way to becoming an established dramatist. In the 40s, however, a new, more conservative management at the Abbey Theatre rejected one of her works and she largely turned away from the stage to write dramas for the radio, a medium she had never heard in her life. When she died at the age of 68, she had long outlived her fame.

Read the rest here.

James Martin, SJ

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