The Ghost of Molly Malone

The legendary Irish heroine deserves better than this ambitious but uninvolving tale of her life

During intermission on the first night of this new play a few audience members on the sidewalk broke out in a not-so-tuneful version of the old ballad -- "She wheeled her wheelbarrow! Through streets broad and narrow!" -- about the legendary Irish fishmonger Molly Malone. It was a high point of the show. Aoise Stratford's script gives us Molly as an ageless bag lady pushing a shopping cart through the streets of modern Chicago, watching a homeless girl named Lois who reminds her of herself and remembering scenes from her own gritty, harrowing life in the 1650s. The concept is ambitious, but it has no spontaneity (unlike the song on the sidewalk) and no suspense: The actors drift from scene to scene. Michael Symonds does compelling work as an English street merchant and the Irish husband of Molly, who dies fighting Cromwell's invasion of Dublin. Arwen Anderson is also funny as the younger Molly (spirited and gutter-poor, hating the English), and Treacy Corrigan gives a handful of urgently felt performances in smaller, scrappier roles. But the play overall feels alive only when it concentrates on Molly's history. The Chicago scenes are clichéd, and Stratford's connect-the-dots game is less interesting than the plain story of the widow Malone.

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