Theater Review: ‘The Naturalists’

September 16, 2018 Updated: October 2, 2018

NEW YORK—The Pond Theatre Company, an American home for emerging British and Irish playwrights, is presenting the world premiere of “The Naturalists,” by Jaki McCarrick, at Walkerspace on Walker Street in Manhattan’s Tribeca area.

The play is an earthy depiction of a small group of individuals living on the edge of society. Set in 2010 rural Ireland, two brothers in their 40s live in a mobile home. Not very fancy, it could more readily be called a trailer, a messy trailer.

Both Francis (John Keating) and his younger brother Billy (Tim Ruddy), realizing the need for some order, hire a young local girl, Josie (Sarah Street), as a housekeeper.

Francis, a lover of nature, often comments on the beauty of the trees, flowers, and sky. Josie, being a sensitive sort, is drawn to Francis, and they draw close.

Most of the first act is spent in chatting, not going anywhere special. The two-hour show could profit by a little judicious cutting. But later, another man enters the picture and livens up the doings. He is the grim, hostile John-Joe (Michael Mellamphy), and he is bad news.

It seems he and Billy knew each other from the past and experienced some sort of escapade together. Tension rises as John-Joe draws a gun and demands his money. What money!? This is news to Francis, but finally the matter is sorted out.

Tim Ruddy and Sarah Street appear in The Naturalists.
Billy (Tim Ruddy) and his housekeeper Josie (Sarah Street), in “The Naturalists.” (Richard Termine)

There is violence, one important element of which is seen by the audience but not by Josie—an interesting ploy. It comes out that both brothers have had a degree of criminality in their pasts. But their love of nature seems to take the edge off that point.

At the play’s end, the trio sits together and ponders their future. They apparently experience a kind of catharsis.

Under two directors, Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment, the performances are quite good. John Keating, whom I have seen many times, primarily at Manhattan’s Irish Repertory Theatre, in character roles, makes a nice shift here to an offbeat kind of leading man.

Tim Ruddy neatly conveys the quieter type of brother—the still-water-runs-deep kind.

Sarah Street, unfortunately, hasn’t much of a role to dig into, but she makes the most of what she has been given.

Michael Mellamphy does a sinister-enough villain whose presence helps enliven the second half of the play.

Adding a touch of authenticity to the production is the very appropriate set by Chika Shimizu. It truly conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of an overcrowded motor home.

Lovers of Irish theater and down-to-earth naturalism should like this one.

“The Naturalists’
Walkerspace
46 Walker St.
Running Time: 2 hour, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Sept. 23

Diana Barth writes for various theater publications, including New Millennium. She may be contacted at DiaBarth99@gmail.com

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