After a two-year, COVID-19-related hiatus, Irish Theatre of Chicago recently returned to the stage with Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney. The drama runs now through May 8 at the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park.
Mounting a show in what are sort-of post-pandemic times has been amazing and terrifying, said the show’s director, Siiri Scott.
“We test (for COVID-19) constantly. We mask,” Scott said. “I don’t think people realize how much theater folks have had to sacrifice to be able to do this work. We put off travel, going out, being in crowds and such to keep ourselves and one another safe and able to perform. It’s such a privilege to work in theater, but it isn’t without a cost.”
Scott lives in Chicago. She also heads Acting and Directing at the University of Notre Dame, some 95 miles away near South Bend.
“I need to be in Chicago to do my professional work, and I absolutely love teaching. The only challenge is the drive,” she said. “I know the professional work influences my teaching, and I’m guessing vice-versa.”
Of teaching during the pandemic, Scott said, “As you can imagine, it was challenging. I was training actors for a profession that didn’t exist, and trying to do it via Zoom on certain days. I look at the students who were most affected, who are now juniors and seniors, and I’m happy to say that they are up to speed. We are fortunate to have a fully vaccinated campus, so the students have been able to get back to work and on stage.”
She stumbled into someone at Starbucks – and the ITC
As for her involvement with Irish Theatre of Chicago, Scott began working with the company in 2015. She directed Barbara Figgins then in My Brilliant Divorce. That was staged upstairs at Chief O’Neill’s.
“Michael Grant, a founding member of the company, was a classmate of mine in college. We stumbled upon one another in a Starbucks in Bucktown one day in 2014. He reached out to see if I would be interested in directing a staged reading for our Three Pints Series. That started the relationship,” Scott said. “I have been a member of ITC since December of 2018. I’m pretty sure it was that Christmas, but the pandemic has made dates a little hazy.”
As for the pandemic’s impact on Irish Theatre of Chicago, Scott said the company closed its production of Phillip McMahon’s Pineapple that she was directing on March 11, 2020.
“Then we furiously wrote grants and dealt with budgets to get everyone paid and made whole,” Scott said. “It was very important to us that we fulfilled our responsibilities to the cast and crew.”
Irish Theatre of Chicago also eventually secured some federal Covid relief grant money, Scott said.
Call it a comeback
For its comeback, Scott wanted to direct a show that would speak both to the pandemic and the multiple realities we are experiencing around the United States and beyond.
First staged in the early 1990s and set in rural County Donegal, Molly Sweeney concerns a visually impaired woman as she prepares for a life-changing surgery. Told entirely in monologues, the only other characters are Molly’s husband and her doctor.
Here in Chicago, Steppenwolf offered a production in 1996. Robert Falls planned to direct the show at the Goodman in 2020 or 2021. The pandemic put a halt to that.
Scott feels the play remains particularly relevant for 2022 audiences. The company staged Molly Sweeney at Notre Dame, too, prior to the Chicago run.
In her director’s notes, Scott wrote, “I believe we can grieve, heal, and move forward in this uncertain time. Sometimes we will see clearly, sometimes we will need to feel our way through the darkness, but as we create a new reality, I hope we can find our way back to each other with compassion and understanding.”
According to Scott, so far audiences for Molly Sweeney have been enthusiastic and very, very warm.
“It’s clear that everyone is thrilled to be able to do and see art again,” she said.
All photos by Michael Brosilow