'Steward' a profound study of humanity

By Betty Mohr

Epic in scope, with grand Shakespearean insights, "The Steward of Christendom" is the kind of drama that lingers with you long after the curtain has come down.

It's not just that it's emotionally powerful story, gloriously written by Irish playwright Sebastian Barry, brings out truths of the totality of man's life, but that its featured performer gives one of the most magnificent and exceptional portrayals you'll see on a Chicago stage.

Set in a white square of a room designed by Joseph T. Tilford and illuminated by Heather Gilbert, the action focuses on an aged man confined to a home for the mentally feeble in Wicklow, Ireland. It's here that Thomas Dunne talks to himself, rages against the circumstances of his life and re-experiences his past family life, which is enmeshed in the history of Ireland.

Dunne, once in charge of the Dublin police force, believed he had risen as high as a Catholic could and saw himself as the steward of Queen Victoria's England. The political violence of the last half of his life, combined with the deaths of his wife and son and the abandonment of his favorite daughter, rip apart the certainties upon which his life was based and strip away his illusions of Ireland.

This is revealed though Dunne's flashbacks and monologues, in which past and present flow together. Dunne, fashioned by Barry in the likeness of one of his relatives, becomes flesh and blood through an exceptionally riveting performance by Lawrence McCauley.

Ranting against the world's injustice, the Lear-like figure tries to make sense of his life as he realizes that it wasn't his title, or the consequences of his politics, or any of the other trappings of outward opinion that were important. The only things in his life that really were meaningful were his wife and children, and that loving them was most important of all.

Although McCauley takes center stage throughout the production, eloquently directed by Ina Marlowe, others in the cast of eight contribute wonderful supporting portrayals. The three actresses who play Dunne's daughters — Moira Brennan, Rebecca J. Ennals, and Rohanna Doylida — turn in excellent performances. Delivering fine portraits as the caretakers are Melinda Moonahan and Marc Nelson.

"The Steward of Christendome" gets to the core of what being human is all about, and McCauley's performance is one that will stay with you for a long time to come.

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