The Field

  • Date:
    June 1, 2006
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman

    Written by: John B. Keane
    Directed by: Ciar�n O�Reilly
    Cast: Craig Baldwin, Orlagh Cassidy, Malachy Cleary, Paddy Croft, Karen Lynn Gorney, Brian Henderson, Ken Jennings, Laurence Lowry, Marty McGuire, Paul Nugent, John O'Creagh, and Tim Ruddy.
    Synopsis: Bull McCabe, a farmer, has leased four acres of poor land from a widow for five years during which time he nurtured it into prime pasture. Now she wants to sell the land to the highest bidder, and Bull, having invested his time and effort, believes that he has rights to the property. When an 'outsider' from England appears on the day of the auction to offer an unusually high price, Bull decides to take justice into his own hands.

    My first encounter with Irish playwright John B. Keane was in 2003 at Irish Rep, a small New York theater that showcases the works of Irish playwrights, usually cast with native Irish or Irish-American actors. Keane's play, "The Matchmaker," -- not the one of Dolly Levi fame -- was playing and told the witty story of Dicky Mick Dicky O'Connor's matchmaking efforts to help the lonely people of tiny Ballybarra.

    Keane's humor was so gentle and so kind, and his understanding of human nature so deep, I knew that if there were more plays of his to be seen in New York, I'd quickly become a Keane groupie. And I did.

    The following year, Dicky returned in "The Love-Hungry Farmer," and with his usual wry wit, told us about an elderly gentleman who longed for love but whose clumsy efforts scared off the women. This play was as satisfying as "The Matchmaker," and I implored Charlotte Moore, the artistic director of Irish Rep, to present more plays by Keane.

    Now Charlotte has revived Keane's 1964 play, "The Field," an account of a brutal man who wanted a piece of land so bad, he was willing to forsake his soul to get it. This was not what I'd come to expect of Keane, but it is, nonetheless, yet another play that documents Keane's keen insights into human nature.

    In 1964, well before the Irish even dreamed of national prosperity, Ireland was one of the poorest nation's in Europe. Most of the people eked out a meager living on farms, and most of them believed that land was the greatest possession a man could have.

    Bull McCabe, an aptly named man, was a farmer, and more than anything, he needed a piece of land that would give him access to water for his cattle. The elderly widow, Maggie Butler, owned the four-acre parcel that abutted McCabe's land on one side, and the river on the other, and so for many years, Bull paid Maggie for grazing rights.

    Now in poor health and needing money, Maggie has decided to auction off the field that had been willed to her by her late husband, to the highest bidder. Bull is enraged, believing that the field rightfully belongs to him. However, William Dee, a wealthy industrialist from the city was prepared to meet Maggie's reserve of 800 pounds, more than Bull could afford.

    Bull was enraged. He called a gathering of family and friends and explained with self-righteous indignation his intentions to beat Dee till he took back his bid. I'll just hurt him a bit, he said, nothing really serious.

    Using emotional blackmail and hinting of additional violence, the farmer bullied everyone until they all swore to cover for him. The beating, however, went a bit too far and Dee was killed. For months the police were stymied, and even the local priest's heavy-handed sermon that lectured the townspeople of their ethical and moral obligations fell on deaf ears.

    The ending of "The Field" is most unsatisfying, not just because justice is not done, but because it is too often the way of the world.

    More than 40 years have passed since Keane wrote "The Field," but the underlying theme that addresses the belief of entitlement by people in power is as relevant today as it was then. How else could there have been an Enron, a Tyco and a WorldCom?

    Bullies are everywhere, and not just in corporations: on the highways, in the Middle East claiming rights to one piece of land or another, and in classrooms where big kids terrorize the smaller ones. Perhaps this is why this powerful play left me feeling so powerless and frustrated.

    What the critics had to say.....

    CHARLES ISHERWOOD of the NEW YORK TIMES says �A sturdy new production. Marty Maguire's Bull boils with a fury that brings a tense focus to the play's strongest scenes.�

    FRANK SCHECK of NEW YORK POST says "EVERY once in a while, between of ferings of Wilde and Shaw, the Irish Repertory Theatre delivers a gem from a playwright whose work is rarely seen on our shores. Such is the case with "The Field," a forceful drama by John B. Keane."

    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "Director Ciaran O'Reilly's solid production is dominated -- as it should be -- by Marty Maguire's vivid McCabe. A scowling, red-faced presence with a perpetual growl, Maguire frequently shoots a burning glare that could blister stone."

    MARK BLANKENSHIP of VARIETY says "Despite grander themes, both play and production work best as a collection of small moments.

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    New York Post