In Woman and Scarecrow, the haunted and haunting play by Marina Carr, a woman and her alter ego wrestle with truth and consequences at the very edge of her life, where the truth is often inescapable, but some insights can come too late.
The play, the first by Carr to be staged at the Rep, is set in a room that's as spartan as the only life that is leaving it.
Woman, played by Stephanie Roth Haberle, is wife to an unfaithful husband and mother to eight children. Now we find her in a morphine assisted twilight, with nothing left to do but confront the details of her life.
“It is easy to be happy,” she tells us. “It is a decision. Like going to the dentist.” But if that's so, and it really is that simple, then why do so many souls choose otherwise? Why do they walk away from the things that can save them, especially when they are right under their noses?
Answering that is the job of a lifetime - and this play. We can throw away what can save us without a thought Carr reminds us, until what was given away so lightly can become the thing we later crave.
It's a fascinating detail of our history that just as in the play, Irish society is undergoing a long reckoning with how it has treated, and still treats, women. Many have disappeared into the long night that is waiting offstage, with the same level of regret and heartache.
“I draw very much from my own experience as an actor and a woman to play this role,” Roth Haberle tells the Voice. “In the play the character of the woman talks about passion and passionate living, she doesn't understand until the end but that's what her whole life has been, incredibly passionate. If you can you took life by the horns, if you can say you lived it to the fullest, it's a joy whether it's hard or easy.”
The tussle between Woman and Scarecrow (played by Pamela J. Gray) changes each time the two actors play it in rehearsal, as do the interventions of the plays other two characters Him (played by Aidan Redmond) and Auntie Ah (played by the instantly authoritative Dale Soules).
“It's a very challenging story and journey, Marina Carr's voice is like classical Greek theatre in that it's a constant thing that you work on, because you never stop learning from the material. The relationship and the clarity of the discussions between Woman and Scarecrow bring attention to the voice that we all hear over our own shoulders throughout our lives, the one that says do this, don't do that, this will be good for you, this will be better for you.”
You can spend your life outrunning honesty and truth but they are not going to go away. “They nag at you, sometimes you take their advice and sometimes you don't, but you pay for it when you don't,” Roth Haberle continues.
At root Woman and Scarecrow is about finding an authentic way to live, a prospect that is too overwhelming for many. “One of the lines in the play that anchors it for me is this: “I wasn't good to myself. I refused to be happy.” So she is slowly coming to terms with how she lived.
“The children need to be brought up. There are eight of them. She made this choice, she took this road. She has to create this moral pathway for them. She has to be present because her husband often isn't. She has to be rooted, to have a spine. But she has fooled herself in some ways. She's constantly giving. She leaves nothing for herself.”
But it's like the oxygen mask on the plane, you're no help to others if you don't put the mask on you first, Roth Haberle says. That's the too late to change now awareness that Woman and Scarecrow deals in and that's a message that should never get old.
“It's an incredible in depth questioning of existence that men and women can take something away from. It's from a woman's point of view, but it's about how we live with others and what we allow ourselves. Is it worth having children and watching them go though what you have? I find it very uplifting at the end.”
Woman and Scarecrow plays through Sunday, June 24, 2018 at Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. For tickets call the box office at 212-727-2737.