|Bold performance explores amazing woman
(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
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'
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
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
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
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
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.