By Richard Ades
A magical horse is helping Tantrum Theater continue its tradition of ending the summer with a work that complements the annual Dublin Irish Festival.
In 2016 (the troupe’s debut season), the selection was a beautifully staged production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. This year, it’s Into the West, adapted by Greg Banks from a 1992 film about two Irish youths who go on a dangerous journey with a mysterious white steed.
Though not quite as sophisticated or rewarding as Lughnasa, it was an apt choice for any families who made it over to the Abbey Theater from last weekend’s festival. In both subject matter and length, it’s eminently kid-friendly.
Director Jen Wineman and her cast of three spin the lively tale with crucial help from onstage musician and sound designer Robertson Witmer. Each actor plays a leading role in addition to multiple supporting roles.
Turna Mete and Blake Segal portray Ally and Finn, Dublin youths who still grieve for the mother they lost years earlier. Greg Jackson plays their father, whose own reaction to his wife’s death has been to dilute his sorrow with booze. First, though, Jackson plays the grandfather who encounters a white horse and decides to leave it with his grandkids.
Ally and Finn are determined to keep the horse even though they live in a high-rise apartment building. Once their father sobers up enough to realize he has a new four-legged roommate, he naturally demands that they get rid of it. He relents after realizing the horse seems to help Ally’s asthma, but by then the animal has caught the eye of a police official who is determined to make a profit by putting it up for auction.
Desperate, the siblings steal the horse and take off on a cross-country journey with the law on their trail. What they don’t know is that the horse is a supernatural being who will ultimately lead them back into the sea from whence it came.
Into the West’s mixture of loss and Irish mythology may remind some of Song of the Sea, a wondrous 2014 animated film that also centers on motherless siblings. The play can’t match the film’s immersive power, but it’s entertaining, often humorous, and concludes on a note that will leave few viewers with dry eyes.
Mete and Jackson are particularly affecting as the fragile Ally and her repentant father, but Segal also is solid as the stalwart Finn. Deb O’s scenic design complements the production’s minimalist nature by depicting the tale’s multiple settings with the help of a few wooden pallets and barrels and yards of wrinkled, translucent plastic.
Dublin’s Irish Festival may be over, but Into the West gives families a good reason to return to the suburb with the Irish name.
Tantrum Theater will present Into the West through Aug. 19 in the Abbey Theater, Dublin Recreation Center, 5600 Post Road, Dublin. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (except Aug. 13), 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Tickets are $28, $26 seniors (65-plus), $10 students with a valid ID. 614-793-5700 or tantrumtheater.org.