Pictured: Sylvie Sadarnac. Photo courtesy of The Right Brain Project.
By Conor McShane
“Lured: The Curse of the Swans” a new family drama receiving its world premiere from The Right Brain Project, begins with a disembodied voice narrating a brief retelling of the Irish legend of the daughters of King Lir (pronounced lure; as the narrator reminds us, Lear is a different king and a different story), a tale in which the titular daughters are cursed to live as swans for 900 years by their jealous stepmother (there always seems to be one of those in these kinds of stories). Over the course of their lives, they see Ireland change radically, with Paganism giving way to the influence of Christianity, until only the tolling of a “good Christian bell” can break the curse.
Meanwhile, our three characters, a mother and two daughters living in present-day Chicago, perform an interpretive dance, their fluid movements mimicking the swans’ gracefulness. The legend pops up frequently throughout the play, with the characters directly underlining the thematic connections to their own fractured story.
In the present day, Grainne (Sylvie Sadarnac) has lived estranged from her two adult daughters Deirdre (Annabella De Meo) and Maeve (Liz Goodson) since their father Paddy died by suicide ten years earlier. In honor of the anniversary, the three of them are planning to put their resentments aside to take a trip to Paddy’s homeland of Ireland, a trip he always wanted to take but was never able to. These particular familial animosities can’t be set aside so easily, however, and over the course of several fraught phone calls on the eve of the journey, each character expresses their own private pain and the way Paddy’s death has clouded their lives.
One of playwright Terry Boyle’s more interesting choices is to have each character confined to her own separate space, reaching out via the telephone but never connecting in person, thus highlighting their distance both physically and emotionally. The brief moments of physical contact, like a hand extended from Maeve to Deirdre crossing this imagined barrier, beautifully and simply convey their enduring sisterly bond, making you wish there were more such moments throughout the play.
Because unfortunately, while “Lured” touches on a number of big, dramatic topics, it doesn’t quite manage to cohere as a resonant drama. We know fairly little about each of these characters beyond their basic personalities—Maeve is depressed and sarcastic, Deirdre is neurotic, Grainne is distant and work-obsessed—along with what we’re told about their history together, so the moments that should be emotionally powerful don’t have the necessary character development to feel earned. The things they struggle with are all fairly well-trod subjects: sexuality, pregnancy, infidelity, and they aren’t explored with as much nuance as they need to really resonate. In general, Boyle has a habit of overplaying the subtext, putting unnecessary emphasis on the connection to the Irish legend and not allowing the conflicts to unfold organically.
All three actors do strong work, and Becca Holloway’s direction adds some interesting layers, from the aforementioned physical touch to the use of choreographed movement lending a dreamlike feel to certain moments. This feeling is bolstered by Adrienne Johnson’s lighting, the washes of warm light against the dark of the Athenaeum black box providing an eerie complement. Perhaps with a few more drafts, the play could work as the resonant drama of familial resentment and inherited trauma that it hints at in its stronger moments.
“Lured: The Curse of the Swans” runs through April 6. For more information visit therbp.org.