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By Paulanne Simmons
Heidi James in "Bold Girls." Photo credit: Petra Liebetanz.



"Bold Girls"
Directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser
29th Street Rep
212 West 29th St. (between 7th and 8th avenues)
Mon. - Sat. at 8 p.m., and Sat. at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $35 (TDF vouchers accepted)Reservations: (212) 868-4444 or smarttix.comOpened Sept. 8, plays through Oct. 18

Perhaps the most surprising fact about "Bold Girls," which opens 29th Street Rep's fifteenth season, is that its author, Rona Munro, is not Irish, but Scottish. True, Munro lived in a Belfast community, where she encountered the prototypes for her characters. But her mastery of the speech patterns, the suffering and the struggles of her very Irish characters is truly remarkable.

"Bold Girls", directed by Greenwich Street Theatre's Ludovica Villar-Hauser, is about four women living amidst the violence of Belfast.

Nora (Paula Ewin) is a mother and widow in her mid-fifties. Cassie (Heidi James), her 35-year-old daughter, married young and had two children before her husband was carted off to jail. Marie (Susan Barrett) is a younger, somewhat naive widow with two young children.

Their delicately balanced world comes unhinged with the appearance of Deirdre (Mora MacDonald), a 16-year-old hoodlum who divides her time between thievery and waiting tables at a neighborhood bar. Now long-buried secrets come to the surface. And longtime friendships come apart.

All these women are "bold" not because they defy society's norms. In fact, they are quite accustomed to submitting to the authority of both the state and their husbands. But they are bold in their ability to survive gunfire and burning buses, abusive husbands and ungrateful children, and the oppressive poverty that can squeeze the joy out of every moment.

There are no men onstage in Bold Girls, yet men are everywhere. They are the boozers, the beaters, the betrayers. They seduce with gentle hands and sweet voices, and they desert their women, leaving nothing behind but a picture on the wall and their babies in a crib.

Each of these women has her own internal monologue to explain her personal struggle: Marie's to remain charitable, Nora's to justify her marriage, Cassie's to explain her wanton behavior, Deirdre's to search for her place in the world.

Munro, an award-winning playwright ("Bold Girls" captured the Susan Blackburn Award and the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright for its UK premiere in 1991 at London's Hampstead Theater), has the rare ability to craft image-laden language that trips lightly and believably from an actor's tongue.

"Bold Girls" is filled with lines like "grudge a dry hand to a drowning man," "I fell out with Mommy on the delivery room floor," "He's got the kind of eyebrows that stop short conversations," "He's just nineteen, trying to grow a moustache like dust on a ledge," and "heart of flint and a tongue to match."

Coupled with the excellent delivery of the actors (especially the very powerful Ewin) Munro's dialogue and monologues are doubly effective.

Mark Symczak has created an Irish kitchen that's both comfy and harsh. And even better, it folds up to make way for the bar the ladies visit to have a stab at enjoying life. And the music of Irish folk singer Susan McKeown makes a huge contribution in setting the tone and keeping the flow between scenes.

Bold Girls is so perfect in so many ways it seems almost petty to point out its one flaw - James appears much too young to play Cassie. In fact, it isn't until her age is announced that it becomes evident she is a mature woman of 35 - which makes her desperation even more poignant.

With that said, "Bold Girls" is a moving and meaningful production that goes beyond feminism or Irish politics to touch on the painful realities of a world filled with violence, injustice and the wounds people inflict on each other in the course of everyday living.

Yet in the end, the message of Bold Girls is one of hope, something we can all use in these difficult times.[Simmons.]

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