Euripides wasn't the first to recount the story of bad-mommy Medea, but his is the version best-known today: how the princess of Colchis eloped with Corinthian fortune hunter Jason, only to find herself alone and friendless in a foreign land, abandoned by her husband, who plots to take custody of their children and marry a rich heiress. Well, what did you expect in a time where royalty — abetted by gods, yet — pretty much did as they damn well pleased? (Euripides was writing in 431 B.C., remember.) Playwright Marina Carr, in By the Bog of Cats, transposes the ancient myth to turn-of-the-millennium Ireland and, in doing so, refutes our smug illusions of urban enlightenment.
Unlike our own country's wetlands, Ireland's muddy bogs are composed of decayed vegetation dating back millennia, their isolation rendering them a favored campsite for nomadic subcultures — called Romany, Tinkers or Travelers, according to region. This blasted heath is where the handsome Carthage Kilbride built a love nest for his tinker-raised paramour, Hester Swane, and their young daughter. Their common-law union does not prevent Carthage's social-climbing mother brokering a match to the wealthy Cassidy clan, mandating erasure of the groom's youthful indiscretions.
Hester isn't one to surrender quietly, though.
"Even in the confession, they lie," sighs the local priest, speaking of these powerful families. Despite the efforts of both the bride and groom to negotiate a peaceful reconciliation between the intractable elders and the spurned guardian, their entreaties are futile in a universe beyond the reach of law or church, where modern-day incarnations of banshees and pookahs roam nature's ancient graveyards and the list of wedding guests always includes the reclusive Catwoman, who arrives cloaked in animal pelts to lap wine from a saucer.
In opera, the music serves to establish the requisite emotive atmosphere, assisted by stage pictures replete with shadowy corners invoking primitive sorcery to banish any thought of mundane solutions like child support or pre-nuptial contracts. What holds us spellbound in this intimate Artistic Home production, under the direction of John Mossman, is the sheer commitment of an acting ensemble exhibiting the full-throated passion demanded of tragedy without ever compromising the connection with its audience.
At the center of the inexorable conflict is Kristin Collins, whose portrayal of the obsessed Hester propels us through a dizzying range of visceral responses arising from the clash of unyielding convictions accelerated by Frank Nall and Jane DeLaubenfels, playing the autocratic patriarch Cassidy and stifling widow Kilbride. From the first moments, we can only watch, like the innocents caught in the crossfire, as the course of True Love Thwarted comes to its inevitable conclusion.