STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Ireland is a different world from ours, but the inhabitants and stories will feel familiar when “Lagan” takes the Villanova Theatre stage. The latest production by those in the Master’s in Theatre program will be performed Feb. 7 through 19.
The play, by Irish writer Stacey Gregg, tells the story of people in post-Troubles Belfast. It “transcends time and place in its exploration of history, legacy, and the impact of war,” according to the press release. The play explores the connection of 10 characters from four families fused by the trauma of it all, “tributaries” leading into a single river, the Lagan, in Northern Ireland. They explore intergenerational conflicts, politics, religion, and the inability to be vulnerable. The playwright also comments on how communication technology aimed at making it easier doesn’t actually do so.
Megan Slater, who’s originally from Sewickley, Pa., and lives now in Norristown, plays Anne, a mother of two and conductor of a band.
“She’s a quirky lady who is trying to make sense of the new Belfast and her changing relationships with her grown children,” Slater said in an email interview.
Anne is quirky in that she needs to make lists to try to create order.
“I can totally relate to this,” Slater said. “I write a to-do list almost every morning and usually have a larger, long-term list going for the week. There is something so satisfying about checking things off of a to-do list. Much like Anne, I find them very soothing.”
Slater, a first-year acting scholar in the VU Masters in Theatre program, is enjoying the professional nature of this production. The cast is working with a professional director, vocal coach, and movement choreographer, all with extensive experience in theater.
“Having the opportunity to work with these professionals, even in the first couple weeks of rehearsal has really added a richness to the process,” she said. “I’m finding new things about my character through movement and vocal work that I don’t think I would have unlocked without these awesome women.”
Slater has worked professionally as well, prior to pursuing her VU Master’s degree in theater. She has performed for more than 10 years on the stages of Arden Theatre Company, Azuka Theatre, BRAT Productions, The National Constitution Center, Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, PlayPenn, Revolution Shakespeare, Simpatico Theatre Project, and The Wilma Theatre.
Slater thinks “Lagan” offers “an opportunity to spend time in a city and culture with which the audience may not immediately be familiar,” she said.
Christopher Monaco, who was born in Bryn Mawr and lives in Wallingford, will help transport people to another place and way of life as he plays Ian. The character is treated by his mother as the prodigal son, which is difficult for both himself and his younger sister, he said.
“Ian has been called home after an extended stay in London, which was an escape attempt. He comes home, and everything’s different,” Monaco said in an email interview. “He’s changed, but so has his sister, and so much of his journey is learning to accept that she isn’t a little girl who needs her older brother’s protection anymore.”
Like Ian, Monaco is a writer. He also understands Ian’s way of “repainting the world the way he wants to see it,” but “it can also be really frustrating, because as an actor I can step back and understand that others view him as a bit pretentious.”
Monaco, a second-year acting scholar in the Master’s program, notices one other difference between himself and his character: “Ian dresses a lot better than I do,” he said. “Lots of tweed.”
The play features characters trying to reconcile and heal, a universal story. And there are universal “arcs,” which Monaco said audience members will be able to identify with.
“It’s got a little bit for everyone — a brother and sister who struggle to communicate with one another and their own mother, a boy and girl who fall in love despite the forces pushing them apart,” he said. “It’s beautiful to behold because that’s something we all carry in some form in our own lives — an inability to communicate due to some barrier.”
The play offers an escape that unique and yet familiar.
“The script is full of achingly beautiful language and scenery,” he said, “and the production will be a really great way to feel you’ve been transported to a world eerily similar yet vastly different from our own.”
“It’s a lovely, non-linear, poetic look at family, politics and searching for connections,” she said.