Reviews NYCOff-Broadway Published 13 July 2023

Review: The Saviour at Irish Repertory Theater

July 1 – August 13, 2023

Deirdre Kinahan’s new play at Irish Rep grips us even as it indicts us. Lorin Wertheimer reviews.

Lorin Wertheimer
Jamie O'Neill and Marie Mullen in <i>The Saviour</i>. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Jamie O’Neill and Marie Mullen in The Saviour. Photo: Carol Rosegg

The world is full of monsters. There are the classics of horror movies: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and all the serial killers, the Jasons and Michaels and Freddies and Hannibals. There are real life monsters: Hitler, Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer, Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Epstein. All evil to the core and easily dismissible. Scary, yes. Relatable? Not really.

Perhaps more frightening are the human monsters faced by the characters in Deirdre Kinahan’s new play, The Saviour, now playing at Irish Repertory Theatre. In the first half of the piece, Máire (Marie Mullen), having good sex for the first time in her long life, tells Jesus (and us) about her new relationship and many of the things that have led up to the present moment. In the second half, Máire’s son, Mel (Jamie O’Neill), confronts her with information she doesn’t want to know about Martin, the man she has fallen for, the man who is rescuing her from loneliness. If what Mel says is true, Martin is one of the worst kinds of monsters, one who preys on little children.  

But Martin isn’t the only monster looming over the play’s action. Máire’s past is filled with abusive adults, from the uncle who “used to bother” her when she was a child to the father who abandoned her to the cruel nuns who ran the orphanage she was sent to as an adolescent, nuns whose neglect caused the death of the child who slept next to Máire.  

Even Máire herself is monstrous. As a mother she was moody, unreliable, unpredictable, hitting Mel and his siblings without warning, without provocation.  She hit his brother “so hard in the face one day that his eye closed.” To Máire, Mel’s homosexuality makes him the real monster, worse than her, worse than anything Martin might have done.  

The real villain of the piece is the person who never appears. Not Martin (still bad, to be sure), but the titular character—or, more accurately, those claiming to act in Jesus’s name. Kinahan makes it clear that Catholicism—with its anti-gay tenets that divide families, its demand for unquestioned obedience to undeserving authority figures, and above all its emphasis on repentance, not actions, which lets Máire absolve Martin of heinous crimes (just as priests worldwide have been allowed to continue to commit similar crimes because they’ve repented)—is the real enemy. Kinahan’s script seethes with anger at the church’s hypocrisy and abuse.

As Máire, Marie Mullen turns in a performance that is at once subtle and devastatingly sharp. In the space of just over an hour, she displays an incredible range of emotions, from childish joy to unbridled anger to shocked denial and everything in between.  Jamie O’Neill holds his own, but the play is unquestionably Mullen’s. Under Louise Lowe’s direction, the two actors play off each other nicely even as the script calls for Máire to ignore so much of what is going on around her.

Still, the play drags at times. Máire’s opening monologue goes on quite a while. It is ostensibly addressed to Jesus—but he presumably already knows her backstory.  (In the second half of the monologue I found myself wishing Martin would come home already so she’d have someone else to talk to.) Ciarán Bagnall’s simple, claustrophobic set and lighting instill the desire for a scene change—the stage is obviously going to rotate. Why is it taking so long? And Aoife Kavanagh’s creepy soundscape is discomfiting—intentionally so, but the distressed metal sounds contribute to an unpleasant feeling of restlessness.  

Despite any shortcomings, The Saviour is a powerful piece of theater that keeps hold of you. Perhaps that’s because Máire’s unwillingness to acknowledge what is happening is an indictment not only of the Church and its negligence of those it purports to protect, but of all of us. Like Máire, we’ve been given all the information we need. Our failure to act makes us monsters, too.

Lorin Wertheimer is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: The Saviour at Irish Repertory Theater Show Info

Produced by Irish Repertory Theatre

Directed by Louise Lowe

Written by Deirdre Kinahan

Scenic Design Ciarán Bagnall; COSTUME DESIGN: Joan O’Clery

Lighting Design Ciarán Bagnall

Sound Design Aoife Kavanagh

Cast includes Marie Mullen, Jamie O’Neill

Show Details & Tickets

Running Time 70 minutes


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