'The Hen Night Epiphany' by Jimmy Murphy

A Toronto Irish Players' production now onstage at Toronto's Alumnae Theatre

Heather Walker

Joe Szekeres

A challenging play underneath as backstories become unravelled and the truth is revealed.

For some reason, when I discovered ‘hen night’ is the equivalent of a bachelorette party for the bride, the thought of the film ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Irish Girls Gone Wild’ kept playing through my head.

Thank goodness playwright Jimmy Murphy had no intention of developing this idea to fruition in ‘The Hen Night Epiphany’.

I found it interesting, though, how a male playwright wanted to tell a story of how women really speak to one another during a hen night. The same thing occurred with Robert Harding’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ where he wrote about women and their relationships with each other. And there is a male director who has taken the responsibility to helm The Toronto Irish Players’ production of the intricate nature of these true-to-life real women.

I say bravo to these three men for tackling and daring to tell these three different stories.

Premiering in September 2011 at the Focus Theatre, Dublin, ‘The Hen Night Epiphany’ is set in the 2008 real estate crash. We journey up a hill outside of Dublin with five uniquely distinct women who initially have one thing on their minds – to have a rousing hen night of activities before bride Una’s (Cora Kennedy) wedding to Kevin, the son of Olive (Jane Hunter).

Along for this hen night are two of Una’s best friends Triona (Alison Mullings) and Kelly (Martina Schabron). Anta (Maureen Lukie) best friend of Olive’s and godmother to Kevin also joins in on this journey.

Why have these ladies journeyed up this hill? Una and her fiancé have recently purchased a dilapidated-looking hillside cottage overlooking Dublin. She wanted these most important ladies in her life to see what she has purchased before the renovations begin.

Co-Set Designers Bernadette Hunt and Sean Treacy have perfectly established that run down, ‘God, what were they thinking’ exterior look of the house badly in need of a paint job. There is so much stuff in the front yard possibly from the previous renters/owners who may have had to leave quickly. There is a gate off its hinges upstage left. Chairs and tables are located around the playing space. There is a portable small bbq which has clearly seen better days in front of the house.

Bridget Jankowski’s selection of pre-show/intermission music nicely encapsulated various themes of the play in the song lyrics. John Sellens’ lighting design finely showed the passage of time with lights slowly receding as the day moved on. The costumes worn by the ladies nicely accented their individual personality traits.

Earlier I stated ‘Bravo’ to director Alan Hunt because ‘The Hen Night Epiphany’ is a challenging play to undertake. If we are to understand that epiphany is akin to an awakening ‘aha’ moment, then Hunt must ensure the various backstories of these ladies that emerge during this celebration are treated with respect and dignity while still ensuring the story’s pacing appears naturalistic.

Hunt succeeds satisfyingly on this account. I don’t want to spoil the revealed information in the backstories for future audiences. Some of the things I learned about these ladies are quite funny, some are poignant, a few made me do a double take while one truly alarmed me.

One slight quibble - I found the energy level from everyone onstage appeared to wane halfway through the second act. At one point, I thought I might have heard Alison Mullings’ Irish lilt fade away. This is understandable as the actors and production are coming off what is known in the theatre as HELL WEEK where everything is finally put together, and sometimes patience can run thin. Once people have had a rest for a few days away from the theatre with solid sleep, I’m certain they will be mindful of energy upon return.

As the excited bride-to-be, Cora Kennedy’s Una remains grounded as the gracious host of the event and appears to be the ‘fixer’ when relationships break or run amok. All I will say is when we finally learn about her back story – I hope the others are there to help her through.

Alison Mullings and Martina Schabron make good choices in their performances. Mullings’ Triona effectively never upstages as she hears a heated discussion ensuing between Olive and Anta. What was especially nice about this moment? Mullings instinctively just showed her response to this distressing news through her facial responses. Schabron’s Kelly handles herself with a tremendous class when her backstory is revealed about her personal health. At one point, I felt myself starting to laugh and so did a few others around me when Schabron reveals what was going on; however, she thankfully did not turn it into a sitcom type of response. Instead, it’s a believable moment where Kelly must deal with what has happened, realize the consequences and move forward.

The woman ‘role models’ of the group have their own issues. Maureen Lukie’s Anta reminded me of that ‘deer in the headlights’ when her backstory is revealed about her relationship with her husband. Lukie just uses her eyes in such a comical way that made me laugh out loud a few times. But again, Lukie does not make Anta the comic buffoon especially when she tries to remove Olive from a confrontational scene near the end with Una.

There were a couple of times I found when Jane Hunter’s Olive came close to stealing the show. At those moments when the tension was thick, Hunter’s comeback magically brought not only me to laughter but to many sitting around me. Hunter reveals her strength as an actor when she confronts Kennedy’s Una near the end. What I saw at that moment (and I’m trying not to give away the surprise here) – a mother will always come to the defence of a child no matter how old that child is. That confrontation scene had me sitting on the edge of my seat wondering where it was going next.

Final Thoughts: An announcement was made before the performance began that since ‘Hen Night Epiphany’ involved the story of five women, the next Toronto Irish Players’ production involves the story of men. A good decision was made here to balance out storytelling.

Go see ‘Hen Night Epiphany’, and if you can, see the next one. Would be interesting to compare the similarities and differences in both productions.

Running Time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.

‘The Hen Night Epiphany’ runs to November 5 at Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit torontoirishplayers.com and for further information.

Toronto Irish Players present ‘The Hen Night Epiphany’ by Jimmy Murphy
Producer: Geraldine Browne
Director: Alan Hunt
Co Set Designers: Bernadette Hunt and Sean Treacy
Sound Design: Bridget Jankowski
Lighting Design: John Sellens
Stage Manager: Gina Taylor

Performers: Jane Hunter, Cora Kennedy, Maureen Lukie, Alison Mullings, Martina Schabron

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