Four strong women from Irish myth

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By Doug Deuchler

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Oak Park Festival Theatre has joined forces with Open Door Theater to mount an exciting co-benefit production titled, Daughters of Ire. It's a thrilling solo show performed by the amazing and talented Savanna Rae, who also wrote the script. Rae presents the passionate stories of four high-spirited ancient Irish women, drawn from the mythological Ulster Cycle. The audience is pulled in immediately. 

The writer-performer is a dynamo. Carin Silkaitis, the director, keeps the pace rapid but engaging. The characters we meet are all bold and lively. This is not some sweet little tale about leprechauns who perform jigs deep in the forest. These are four strong and very defiant Celtic women who were warriors and queens.

Rae, with ruddy cheeks and partially braided hair, is dressed in all black. She takes a few articles of clothing from a center-stage trunk as she immediately establishes her role as a modern Seanchi or historian/storyteller who becomes various characters from medieval legend. She presents herself as a former geeky girl bitten by the bug of Irish lore who spent her Friday nights in her college library researching ancient history and mythology.

I was unfamiliar with these four heroic women — Maeve, Scatlach, Uatch and Dierdre of the Sorrows — until I saw this show.

Her first character is the lusty ruler, Queen Maeve, who was once the wife of an abusive warrior. In her opening scene Maeve's sex partner is the rough-and-tumble Fergus. Maeve is wild and independent, heroic and valiant — equal to any of the males she encounters. Some have remembered her as a "bloodthirsty harlot."

Rae has taken women, who might be perceived as victims of the pervasive rape culture found in historical and legendary material, and filled in missing details. It seems some of these stories were transcribed by monks who altered what happened to provide didactic lessons. Rae remounts these characters with a new valiance and spirited attitude befitting current attitudes in feminist thinking.

The mood is often dark in Women of Ire, but much of the script is really hilarious. It is hardly a somber affair. Each of these virtual superheroes is presented as bright, fiery and funny.

We learn a lot about ancient Irish history and it is anything but dry and tedious. It's fascinating, for instance, that medieval marriage laws were rather progressive, so women could own property. But there was no marrying for love in that period. 

A one-person show is seldom so passionately performed. Rae keeps her stories flowing with a great sense of urgency — captivating yet never confusing.

Ashley Petit's sound design, with occasional rumbling of distant storms, and Matthew Carney's lighting, effectively build tensions and assist in the transitions between the character's quick changes and scene shifts.

Nicole Lewter is the stage manager. Timothy Klein is the assistant director and dialect coach. 

Rae is especially adept with dialects. Her passion and intensity provide seamless shifts between her various lively characters. I can see her next move being a graphic novel or comic book treatment of this material.

Students younger than high-school age might not appreciate or grasp some of the issues. There is a fair share of sex and descriptions of gory violence as well. The 75-minute show has no intermission.

This co-benefit performance, launched by Oak Park Festival Theater and Open Door, takes place in the intimate Open Door Theater, 902 S. Ridgeland, in Oak Park. The one-woman show is performed in matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. until July 29. $24. Tickets: oakparkfestival.com/daughters-of-ire, 708-300-9396 x101.

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