Barbara Hammond’s The Eva Trilogy begins with an Eve (Julia McNeal) who’s already been cast out of the garden. In the tradition of Irish memoirs like Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, McNeal delivers a lengthy, affecting monologue that mixes nostalgia with a necessary roughness. Eden, the first of three consecutively performed plays, accounts for Eva’s rebellious early years and her subsequent life as an expat in Paris.
Sitting on the steps of her sister Teresa’s house, Eva talks candidly about her journey away from and back to the seaside town she and her siblings grew up in. Once safely abroad, she changed the last vowel in her name to suit her Gallic identity, one that was freed from domesticity and convention. Her sexual appetite, her desire for men, presented an unwieldy problem that was too much for her conservative, religious mother to absorb.
Now her mother is incapacitated by old age. As her caregivers, Teresa, and her husband Eamon, have asked Eva to step in temporarily so they can take an overdue holiday. After they leave, the estranged mother and daughter have an end-of-life reckoning. Eden then turns away from the details of Eva’s story about a wild child’s restlessness and her quest for independence. The various men she’s enjoyed abroad flicker and fade away like candlelit shadows — they never seem real.
She’s spent her adult life pursuing sensual pleasure for its own sake. That’s all well and good but once Hammond abandons her erotic adventuring the playwright doesn’t provide the character with another substance. There’s no career or imaginative life that comes to mean very much to fill in her desirous flesh. In parts two and three of The Eva Trilogy — Enter the Roar and No Coast Road — Eva’s character becomes more elusive, not less, and just as shadowy as the affairs she once described. Both parts sacrifice the emotional immediacy of her first-person narrative for an excessive amount of theatrical clichés.
Enter the Roar excludes Eva from the stage altogether. A black mirror lines the back wall. Teresa (Lisa Anne Porter), Eamon (Rod Gnapp), nurse Roisin (Amy Nowak) and Father O’Leary (Justin Gillman) are all testifying in a courtroom. But they alternate between walking up to microphones to give their official testimonies and stepping aside from them to present their personal thoughts. It’s a clumsy structure that builds in tedium as we watch them, and their dark reflections, walking past each other. They deliver their monologues and never interact. Several times a recording of their overlapping voices builds into a cacophony to indicate the drama of everyone’s conflicted inner life. These pyrotechnics further interrupt the narrative and the stilted line readings. A debate about — spoiler alert — euthanasia doesn’t lend itself well to all of this over-direction. The emotions are intellectualized then pulverized to dust.
Father O’Leary is a myopic figure. He symbolizes the church with a capital S, a self-justifying man of the cloth. We’ve seen his type many times before (Father Flynn in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt immediately comes to mind). Eva called him after her mother died, but the reason she does so remains unclear. When she left Ireland as a young woman, she also leaves her Catholicism behind. Her return home either reignites her faith or makes it impossible for her to ignore her mother’s.
No Coast Road implies something else. On a desert island years after the indictment, Eva leads a pagan life like Sycorax, The Tempest’s witch. The poetic summation of her psyche is a stunning visual, not lingual, effect. A nymph pirouettes onto the branches of trees, a projected video in watery shades of blue. Eva scolds this vision once or twice without otherwise engaging her in a dialogue. When a young stand-in for a long lost Adam shows up, that magic is invisible to him. He also serves no other purpose than to remove his shirt. This last act is closer to a wordless ballet than a conclusive statement about Eva’s choices.
There’s a vagueness in No Coast Road that might have served the trilogy better, to stimulate our curiosity about Eva’s isolated fate, had it swapped places with Eden. Eva suffers consequences for what she’s done but Hammond doesn’t develop her character any further. The playwright reveals and withholds what she wants to about her in part one. After that, the dramatic impact is as ephemeral as a woman made entirely of light.
The Eva Trilogy, through Nov. 12, at Magic Theater, Fort Mason Center, 415-441-8822 or magictheatre.org