The Naturalists – Special Feature

“There ain’t nobody gonna push me of my land! My grandpa took up this land 70 years ago, my pa was born here, we were all born on it. And some of of us was killed on it!…And some of us died on it. That’s what make it our’n, bein’ born on it…and workin’ on it…and dying’ on it! And not no piece of paper with the writin’ on it!”The Grapes Of Wrath

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L-R: Tim Ruddy, John Keating, Sarah Street and Michael Mellamphy

The love of one’s land has been a universal constant throughout human history. While poets have been able to articulate this ‘belonging’ in language that hints at a synergy between Man and his surroundings, politicians and statesmen of every stripe have used this intuitive feeling to justify ‘Manifest Destiny’ or the appropriation of land because of historical or cultural ties. Jaki McCarrick’s latest play The Naturalists indirectly broaches this subject. However, rather than write a narrative that’s ‘epic’ in scope, McCarrick focuses on a few people – principally the Sloane brothers.

Nat-DkA0ljFWwAA6wuaFrancis (John Keating) is the elder of the two and Ireland’s natural rural habitat is his idea of heaven. If anything grows in the ground, Francis knows all about it and as a ‘naturalist’ he has an evangelical zeal for the upkeep of the environment. If Francis is gifted in terms of his knowledge about flora, then his brother Billy (Tim Ruddy) is equally gifted with the care of fauna. But while Francis thinks of his ‘passion’ as his true vocation, for Billy his aptitude with animals isn’t a ‘calling’. Besides, both men are spending their time doing up their former family ‘estate’…

In The Weir and The Night Alive – two of Conor McPherson’s notable successes – the introduction of a female character in a male-only environment has the effect of influencing the men’s behaviour, consciously and unconsciously. In the case of McCarrick’s Josie Larmer (Sarah Street), her presence leads to a change in the ‘home dynamic’, resulting in a more harmonious ambience. But what is her story? And why would she choose to become a ‘housekeeper’ to the Sloane brothers?

Nat-Di-riwhXgAAzkFPWell-travelled and cultured, Josie’s a former dancer who has a lot in common with Francis. Yet after everything she’s seen and experienced, she comes to the same conclusion as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz that “There’s no place like home.” She also has her private passion – the work of Isadora Duncan. Born in California, this 20th century dancer/choreographer would find critical acclaim outside her homeland and pioneer ‘natural’ movement in modern dance. She also followed her own ‘rules’ regarding what women ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do…

With Duncan as a role model, it’s not hard to surmise Josie’s independent thinking and sense of identity. Still, while Josie’s attracted to Francis’ idealism, she has an affinity with Billy’s pragmatism, echoing the three-way relationship between Abra, Caleb and Aron in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

There is, however, one woman who Josie has to ‘compete’ with – a woman whose memory still haunts the Sloane brothers and the mobile home they live in. And just as much a spectre from the past, the arrival of family ‘friend’ John-Joe Doherty (Michael Mellamphy) exposes secrets that disrupts their idyllic existence, with the unadulterated truth about their former lives open to scrutiny.

While very much a ‘family’ drama, The Naturalists examines the choices one makes for family, for one’s country and how we square these decisions with our future selves. While there are many examples in Irish literature about the healing power of nature, when it comes to finding atonement, having the right people in one’s life makes all the difference. Like drawing poison from a wound, one’s guilt and self-loathing may be assuaged by their unconditional love…

© Michael Davis 2018

The Pond Theatre Company, an American home for contemporary British and Irish playwrights, presents the world premiere of The Naturalists by Irish writer, Jaki McCarrick. Directed by The Pond co-founders Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment, The Naturalists marks the professional New York debut of McCarrick.

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Directors Lily Dorment and Colleen Clinton

Performances of The Naturalists will take place September 7-23 at Walkerspace, located at 46 Walker Street in Manhattan. Critics are welcome as of September 9 for an opening on Wednesday, September 12 at 7:30pm. Tickets, priced at $45 general admission, can be purchased by visiting thepondtheatre.org or by calling 212-279-4200.

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