While her work fell out of favour at the Abbey Theatre after her 1930s heyday, she has enjoyed critical acclaim in New York, thanks to a cycle of her work by the Mint Theatre company between 2010 and 2013.
Also, a mid-1990s version of the current revival, Katie Roche, gave the great Derbhle Crotty an early outing at the Abbey.
Now, director Caroline Byrne returns with a production that sets itself a contradictory task: to represent dramatically the impossibility of a woman being fully herself. The answers found by Byrne and her team make for a sophisticated, challenging work.
Katie Roche has a marriage plot, a domestic setting, and a realist structure. But none of this is allowed detract from the potential strangeness at the heart of Deevy’s play.
Its expressionistic aspects are to the fore from the off, when a model of an Irish country home is lifted to reveal the heroine, emerging from the earth beneath. Soon, there’s a marble altar rising from the soil, while over the drama looms a guillotine blade of glass panes.
Those fractured, allusive elements of Joanna Scotcher’s design complement a remarkable performance from Caoilfhionn Dunne (right).
Her Katie is undomesticated, prowling, unpredictable in her movements and moods — almost more unpredictable to herself than to others. Katie is an outsider: an ‘illegitimate’ daughter whose status means a circumscribed life of toil in a convent, before domestic service for the unmarried, respectable Amelia Gregg (played with wry comic timing by Siobhan McSweeney).
Almost on a whim, Katie marries Amelia’s respectable brother, Stanislaus, adopting another societally sanctioned, but ill-fitting role.
Their relationship is no domestic drama — indeed, Stanislaus (Sean Campion) is a man so dull and straight-laced, it’s as if he’s wandered in from another play, another era entirely. But Byrne is alive to this mismatch. She knows Deevy’s point is a radical, sociological one.
And, through a Chekhovian emphasis on fluctuating tone, a positively Greek irony, and plenty of absurd flourishes, she sustains a feeling of fairy tale unreality that is faithful to the play’s daring.
The result is a beguiling, absorbing production that places Deevy in a tradition of Irish theatre which
includes Brian Friel and Tom Murphy.