Bold performance explores amazing woman
Karyn Lewis
(from The Coloradoan, Fort Collins, Colorado, Nov. 3, 2000)

Bas Bleu Theatre Company's production of A Most Notorious Woman is more than just a historical play. It is a bold and intimate look at the real life story of a truly remarkable woman.
   Written and performed by Molly Lyons, A Most Notorious Woman tells the story of Grace O'Malley, a rebellious Irish queen and sea captain who was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I.
   Lyons was inspired to write A Most Notorious Woman after she read Granuaile, a biography of O'Malley's life by Irish author Anne Chambers.
   Lyons' dramatic adaptation of O'Malley's life unfolds like a live-action book.
   She uses projectors to conceptualize this theme. Chapter titles, facts and excerpts from historical letters are projected onto a scrim behind the action. This convention is not only thematically pleasing, but helps the audience follow Lyons' intricate script.
   Lyons' script is non-linear in its structure. Time is jumbled up, events happen out of sequence, and the audience moves through time and space as though seeing the events of O'Malley's life from inside the character's head, perhaps following the fragile strands of her memories.
   Lyons' use of language and imagery was evocative and true to the spirit and times of her character. Equally impressive was her insight into O'Malley's soul. Lyons filled in the gaps that history forgot and made a believable woman come to life before the audience's eyes.
   Although all the scenes were well chosen, the first act did feel a little long. Some judicious paring of the script would have helped fine-tune it.
   Lyons handles her complex script with mastery. There is great depth and passion in her acting. She pushes herself to the limit of her talent, portraying O'Malley at all stages of her life.
   Lyons leaps from old age to extreme youth with hardly a pause in the action. She is believable through each metamorphosis of her character.
   Her acting is honest and gutsy; her affinity with O'Malley palpable. This is a "one-woman" show at its best.
   Lyons is aided in her story-telling by the accompaniment of original music composed and played by Martin Stillion, who enhances the entire feel of the production with his skillfully rendered Celtic themes.
   He and his violin are at all times sturdy partners in the action. The music becomes part of the set, helping the audience visualize the raging battles that Lyons fights alone. It sets moods from nostalgic to heroic, and even becomes the voices of the unseen characters of the play.
   One of the most memorable of these moments was when Stillion pulled harsh twangs from his violin strings to portray the voice of a dictatorial English magistrate.
   Another example of this musical "acting" was when his violin became the voice of one of O'Malley's rebels, calling out to her from the darkness before a battle.
   The story unfolds on a minimalistic set, designed to look like the deck of a ship. The scrim is draped behind the stage like a billowing sail. Along one wall, a wooden mast rises to the ceiling.
   Lyons uses this mast to great advantage. When she climbs up the back of it, and hangs off, it almost feels as though the audience is on the ship with her.
   Through the lighting, music and Lyons' acting talent alone, the set became whatever it needed to be -- a swift galley, a strip of beach, the interior of Elizabeth's court, or the dark prison where O'Malley was held for 18 months.
   Although the set was well conceived, the actual use of the space was limited. Because the original traveling set had to be reduced to fit into Bas Bleu's intimate theater space, the action of the play was severely reduced in size and scope.
   As a result, the action on the stage seemed cramped. Most of the blocking ended up limited to the front of the stage, with little attention paid to the back of the set.
   This criticism is a minor one, however. Overall, A Most Notorious Woman was a powerful and touching play.
   Lyons not only brings to life a character from history and legend, but also reminds us how strong the human spirit can be.