A MISLAID HEAVEN, Famous Door Theatre Company, at the Theatre Building. Someday A Mislaid Heaven may be a great play. It’s got all the right ingredients: political turmoil, family trauma, star-crossed love, even a village graveyard harboring a brutal secret. Winner of last year’s Women at the Door playwriting competition, Carson Grace Becker’s play is set on the western coast of Ireland in 1922, on the eve of the establishment of the Irish Free State. Young idealists Ruth and Samuel find their love embroiled in the birth of the IRA, which tears their families’ allegiances to shreds. You haven’t seen love cranked through the meat grinder of world history so movingly since Casablanca.
But the epic sweep Becker achieves over the course of three hours doesn’t come easily. For the first 45 minutes her characters sit around explaining away various crises–when they’re not engaged in unnecessary character business (Ruth and Samuel frolic for ten minutes when they first meet, putting the action on hold). It doesn’t help that designer Robert G. Smith places Ruth’s family home far upstage, so that much of the first act is played as far from the audience as it’s possible to get. But once Becker starts writing drama instead of exposition–as she does to masterful effect in her scrupulously plotted second act–she proves just how thrilling old-fashioned poetic realism can be.