Director Kevin Christopher Fox says the the cool thing about working with the Seanachai Theatre Company is building, then showing different worlds to audiences.
In the case of the upcoming US premiere of Billy Roche’s “Lay Me Down Softly” at The Den Theatre that means transporting patrons back to the early 1960s as Delaney’s Traveling Roadshow tours the Irish countryside with the usual assortment of rides, sideshow attractions, games and its main draw – a boxing ring where locals can fight each other or fight the roving pugilists.
“We’re hoping to immerse the audience in this world,” Fox says.
To that end, the cast is working with dialect coach Eva Breneman on getting the Wexford accent just right. While the play doesn’t take place on the southeast coast, Fox says the decision was made to use that particular way of talking as Wexford is the hometown of playwright Roche.
“The dialogue has a lot in common with that from his other works, which are set in Wexford. And though the action is somewhere unspecified in the Midlands, we figured the characters come from Wexford,” Fox sayd.
Fox says that The Den is being set up to have the look and tight feel of the roadshow’s boxing tent. And while only sparring takes place on stage, actors have been training and taking boxing lessons while developing their characters.
Those include Jeff Christian, who plays Theo, the patriarch of this ragtag crew whose world is thrown a right hook and a left jab when Theo’s long-abandoned daughter arrives out of the blue – or since this is Ireland, out of the mist.
Christian says her presence disrupts “the delicate ecosystem of this band of misfits.”
While that may be the case, Christian notes that there’s not a lot of drinking in this play – a far cry from Seanachai’s recent run of Conor McPherson’s suburban Dublin, deal with the devil, Christmastime drama, “The Seafarer.”
Christian says that McPherson and Roche are friends. The two co-wrote “The Eclipse”, a movie that won Independent Film & Television Alliance awards in 2010 for Best Screenplay and Best Film.
Critics have noted that “Lay Me Down Softly” has a good deal of action referred to and not shown, while the characters go on about the past. To that Fox says, “The trap of the show is people get too concerned about plot. It’s not that kind of play. It’s a slow burn of a play, a pressure cooker.”
What’s stuck with Fox thus far in putting it together this production is that the characters are all trying to hang onto something, stuck in habits and wary of change. Christian says the work shows how people build a sense of community and work, for better or worse, to define family.
While Christian is busy creating his part of this ringed-in world, in recent years he’s also literally skated into another realm – make that rink.
In his mid-40s, Christian has taken up playing hockey, teaching himself to skate just three years ago before taking his first slapshot. Now he plays in an outdoor league, an indoor one, and even street hockey.
“I’ve always loved watching hockey, so I thought I would give it a try. What’s fun is getting better at it – and at my age it feels pretty good when you can get better at anything,” Christian say with a laugh.
“Lay Me Down Softly” opens at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago with a preview performance Wednesday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. and a press performance Thursday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m.
The regular run begings Friday, April 25 and concludes Sunday, May 25. Curtain times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets at $12 for the preview, $25 for the regular run Thursdays & Fridays, and $30 Saturdays & Sundays. Seniors and students receive a $5 discount. Tickets are available a at www.seanachai.org or by calling (866) 811-4111. Group discounts (8 or more) are available by calling (773) 878-3727.
Patrons who drive must find street parking, and there are some metered spaces near The Den.