Sunday, October 29, 2017

"The Eva Trilogy"

The Eva Trilogy
Barbara Hammond

Julia McNeal
With ocean waves crashing somewhere in an unseen nearby and invisible sea gulls noisily swooping overhead, she sits on the stage’s lone brick doorstep. Forehead furrowed deep for someone only in midlife, cheeks alternating between long and pooched but always with cheerful dimples, and red hair giving away her Irish heritage almost as quickly as her delightful but understandable brogue, she talks to no one in particular but maybe to us.  Words tumble out continuously like a dripping faucet that cannot be turned off, and her eyes glisten with excited almost frenetic energy as she lectures to the gulls on subjects from Jesus’s thirst for water while on the cross to the original woman with her own name and “the business with the snake the and apple.” She also moves about her life from her childhood to her first love-making with a kid named Jimmy.  But throughout, the common thread of her rambling is her returning to a long-ago memory or a moment’s ago experience with her Mam, who lies inside dying of Parkinson’s.

Julia McNeal
For nearly an hour, Julia McNeal holds the audience in rapt, almost breathless attention as she in nonstop monologue is Eva Malloy, a daughter who escaped Ireland and family to live for years with little abandon in Paris but who has returned to her home in Ireland to help care for Eileen, her suffering mother.  Eden is the first of three one-act plays in Barbara Hammond’s The Eva Trilogy, now receiving its world premiere at Magic Theatre.  The tour de force performance by Ms. McNeal in this one-woman first act is just a taste of a fascinating three hours that are at times hypnotic, at times startling, and at other times funny, touching, fanciful, and yes, confusing.  Each act can well stand alone as its own story and play; but together the package is wondrous in its exploration of the ravages and effects of personal loss and how to come to peace with that loss.

Lisa Anne Porter & Rod Gnapp
While Eden takes place at the very end of Eileen’s long journey toward death as narrated by her daughter Eva, Enter the Road occurs some time in the ensuing weeks or months as those close to Eileen share their reflections and biases concerning enduring one’s own or another’s sustained illness.  More specifically, Eva’s sister Teresa (Lisa Anne Porter), her husband Eamon (Rod Gnapp), Eileen’s hospice caregiver Roisin (Amy Nowak), and the local parish priest Father O’Leary (Justin Gillman) confront their own and each other’s views concerning the role Eva had in relieving her mother’s suffering, in “helping her cross over.”  Set in what is probably a courtroom during the sentencing stage but with aspects of talk-show television studio, the four approach stand-up mikes in somewhat random, non-associated manners – at times appearing to be aware and to hear each other and at other times, seemingly reflecting/debating in solitude.  Time and place also jumps around as each person speaks of what it was like to be day-in and day-out with the sick and dying Eileen.  All also give very pointed and/or poignant views of Eva’s appearance from Paris to care for her mother while Teresa and Eamon went away on a much-needed break. Their own conflicting views and the differences among them are accentuated by the powerfully timed movements orchestrated by Director Loretta Greco where their bodies pass and almost collide and yet with each person appearing as if pacing on a stage alone in thought and individual struggle of conscience. 

Rod Gnapp & Justin Gillman
Each of the four leaves a memorable impression of the local, small-town persona portrayed.  There’s the rather self-righteous, young priest who does not show much budge from strict scripture interpretation whose judging, uptight, and fastidious manners that Mr. Gillman provides him are seen in how he dresses without a wrinkle, looks with disdain on opinions different from his, or holds himself erect as an arrow.  Rod Gnapp’s Eamon is a gosh-darn nice guy who clearly loved and enjoyed his mother-in-law, suffered with her suffering, and totally believes his sister-in-law knew how best to help her Mam in her dying moments.  His wife Teresa teeters back-and-forth on how much sympathy she has or does not have for her sister and how much agreement or antipathy she has for the accusing priest, with Ms. Porter showing the exasperation of a woman who has lost one loved one and is not sure whether she can bear to lose a second or not.  Finally, as hospice nurse Rosin, Amy Novak powerfully provides in words and pained but understanding expressions what it is like to be with someone as death approaches and what a person like Eileen often is dying (literally) to have happen as the end approaches.  Together, the ensemble of four delivers a captivating, thought-provoking The Roar.

Caleb Cabrera & Julia McNeal
Just as Shakespeare often does, playwright Barbara Hammond takes Eva and a young, lost hiker named Tom in No Coast Road into the magical woods to find healing, resolution, and peace-of-soul from losses both have experienced.  Hana S. Kim provides both a set and projection design that establishes a remote wilderness clearing amidst trees and dancing nymphs (the latter whimsically portrayed in video by Megan Trout).  Combined with beautifully scripted lighting effects of Stephen Strawbridge and subtle sound effects and a low-humming musical composition both by David Van Tieghem, the third act is as much dream as outdoor reality.  Ms. Greco directs the two-to-three-dozen, short scenes that remind one of a night’s repose where dreams come and go as the body tosses and turns, finally falling into the deep, desired sleep as the night’s sequence reaches a much-sought resolution.

Julia McNeal & Caleb Cabrera
Eva returns in this third hour, now a much older woman -- a forested hermit with wildly flying hair of white and various raggedy garments covering her slumping, limping body (one now minus a leg).  A beautiful specimen of a young man collapses at her open-air homestead, lost on a hike that has a mission to become clear as their special relationship develops.  Along with another stellar performance by Ms. McNeal as an Eva who is still prone to spill forth non-stop her stories and observations, Caleb Cabrera is outstanding as he slowly unlocks who Tom really is and what his mission in this hike is.  Together, they find in the magic of this surreal setting answers and solace as well as rest of heart and soul.

Not every minute of the three hours of Ms. Hammond’s The Eva Trilogy is always understandable as to what is exactly happening and why, but never is there a minute that is not intriguing.  In the end, answers to lingering questions are not always answered for us, but there is a sighing sense of resolution that enduring a terrible loss (whether a loved one, one’s freedom, or something as fundamental as one’s own leg) is possible given time, help of a fellow human being, and maybe just a little magic.

Rating: 4 E

The Eva Trilogy continues through November 12, 2017 at The Magic Theatre at Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at 415-441-8822 or online at

Photos by Jennifer Reilly

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