THE MAI, Irish Repertory of Chicago, at Victory Gardens Theater. “If you had the luck of the Irish,” John Lennon once sang, “you’d be sorry and wish you were dead.” This is certainly the opinion of Irish writer Marina Carr, who heaps hardships on her heroic protagonist, Mai. It isn’t enough that this 40-year-old single mother was abandoned ten years ago by the father of her children, or that she’s worked two jobs to build her kids and mother a beautiful house on the edge of Owl Lake. Oh no, she’s still pining for her erstwhile husband, and when the worm returns, you know there’s going to be hell to pay.

Of course Irish sorrows are nothing new. But each generation creates sorrows in its own image. And Carr, born in 1964, has latched onto a particularly contemporary and shallow kind of sorrow. Mai is ready-made for the talk shows, smart but with terrible taste in men. Carr tries to make her story deeper and more interesting by playing games with the play’s structure: Mai’s tale is told in flashback by her daughter. But The Mai turns dreary, soft, and predictable pretty fast. Kay Martinovich, usually a sharp director of naturalistic plays, can do nothing to speed up this slo-mo soap opera. Even the terrific cast, led by Peggy Dunne, can do nothing to make this dirge dance.

–Jack Helbig