The Second Girl

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 3, 2015

MacKenzie Meehan in "The Second Girl"
MacKenzie Meehan in "The Second Girl"  

Huntington Theater's world premiere of Ronan Noone's "The Second Girl" is an engrossing slice of life drama set in 1912 Connecticut.

The play is a companion to Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece "A Long Day's Journey into Night" about the Tyrone family. Set in the kitchen of the same home, Noone's script focuses on the Tyrone's servants - Cathleen, Bridget, and Smythe. Cathleen is the only character to appear on stage in the original O'Neill, however the others are referenced.

Campbell Scott's subtle direction lets the talent of this fine cast take center stage. Kathleen McElfresh (Bridget), Christopher Donahue (Smythe), and MacKenzie Meehan (Cathleen) each bring to life a fully realized character. Additionally, Santo Loquasto's impeccable scenic and costume design provides the foundation which allows us to fully give ourselves over to the play.

The overall effect is almost cinematic. This is hyper-realism at its best. There is no need to be familiar with the O'Neill work to enjoy this play. It may provide a little extra background since the script does dovetail seamlessly with events that occur in the other play, but this work is strong enough to stand on its own.

Christopher Donahue and Kathleen McElfresh in "The Second Girl"
Christopher Donahue and Kathleen McElfresh in "The Second Girl"  (Source: Huntington Theatre)

We are permitted entrance into the world of the tireless Irish immigrant women that came to America in droves during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their stories are rarely told, but their characters are often mocked. The wise cracking (and often drunk) Irish servant has been standard fodder in plays and movies for a century.

Here we get to witness the pressures and heartbreaks that were ever present for these women. Women who left everything behind in the hope of a brighter future. Women who only had each other.

It's a period piece, but it feels contemporary. The divided America of a century ago has not really changed that much. We are still a country with gross income inequality. We still argue over the social status - if any - of immigrants. And we still avert our eyes whenever we are confronted with those we deem "lower."

While Cathleen dreams of becoming an actress, egged on by Mr. Tyrone; Bridget dreams of being reunited with her son back in Ireland. Meanwhile, Smythe is determined to leave it all behind and head off to California and a new life. Each one escapes into their own dreams just as Mrs. Tyrone escapes into the fog of morphine in the next room.

Noone offers a blunt and honest look at these individuals, yet it is surprisingly delicate at the same time. Unpleasant pasts and choices are revealed, yet you don't judge, you understand. There is feeling of respect for these characters and they remain strong, wise, and resilient throughout.

"The Second Girl" continues through February 21, 2015 at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For more information the Huntington Theatre website.