'Suitcase Under the Bed': Four pitch-perfect plays, full of humanity

SUITCASE
(Left to right:) A.J. Shively, Aidan Redmond, and Sarah Nicole Deaver in Teresa Deevy's play "The King of Spain's Daughter" at the Beckett Theatre in New York.

Mint Theater’s mission is to find and produce lost or forgotten plays from the past and give them new life onstage. Four lovely one-acts by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy (1894 – 1963) were both lost and forgotten until director Jonathan Bank visited her family home in Ireland and found two suitcases under the bed stuffed with typescripts. Thus the show’s title.

The Suitcase Under the Bed is an evening rich in human nature: love and longing and desperation and danger and disappointment, all embodied in these delicate vignettes, so charming, so full of surprises and of insight.  Like a quick-sketch artist, Deevy creates character right before our eyes — no expounding, no clunky exposition, not a soapbox in sight, just people, caught in a moment in time by the dilemma of love. The plots are like wisps of truth — surprising little inevitabilities left in mid-air, completed by us.

In #1 Strange Birth, a maid in a boarding house watches as people react to their mail. Regarding love, she decides, “I’m better not to have it.” But then the mailman brings her a letter he wrote himself. …

In #2 In the Cellar of My Friend, an older woman oversees not only breakfast but the messy confusion of a father and his son who are both in love with the same young woman. Truly, “to be a sister of a brother is to hear nothing.” A basket of red roses moves from hand to hand as we see, after  thorn pricks, that “roses are treacherous.” We are mistaken in our judgments, as we and they discover, but only at the very end.

In #3  Holiday House, accents shift to upper-class as a family gathers for a month-long seaside vacation together, even though the couples have reconfigured themselves. There is an unmarried prissy sister, worrying with good cause.

And in #4 The King of Spain’s Daughter, a sweet, mild-mannered young man is hopelessly in love with a wild girl whose “heart is full of folly” and drives her father to violence and distraction. It is only when an old woman advises her hapless suitor that “the hard man wins” that he stands a chance with her, teaching us the same absurd and dreadful lesson as Synge’s Playboy of the Western World.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about Deevy’s pitch-perfect plays is that she herself was deaf. What a testimony to the life of the imagination, an inner world where characters walk and talk and sound just like themselves — or what we, in our inner worlds, imagine them to be like.

Of course we are helped in our imaginings by this pitch-perfect cast, who can shift from role to role and become nearly unrecognizable from play to play.  Especially fine are, well, everybody (I started a list but realized it included every name): Cynthia Mace, Ellen Adair, Sarah Nicole Deaver, and Aidan Redmond, A.J. Shively, Colin Ryan, and Gina Costigan.

Instead of awkward pauses to cover the set and costume changes (Vicki R. Davis designed the charming scenery and Andrea Varga the costumes), we are given two entr’acte poems, recited in the old-fashioned style, for our pleasure.


Theater Company at Beckett Theater, 410 W. 42nd St., New York. Extended through Sept. 30.