Arts theater review

What to do when you cannot mend Every Piece of Me?

Every Piece of Me tries to patch together the strewn pieces of an Irish family

Every Piece of Me
A Boston University New Play Initiative Production
Written by Mary Conroy
Directed by Zohar Fuller
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
Apr. 20–30, 2017

Aine (Sarah Hirsch) takes out a music box, playing a nostalgic song from her youth. She sits alone in her family’s Irish grocery store, having just returned from New York with her fiancé, Hunter (Charlie Tisch). She hides her engagement from her family (though they guess this easily enough) and another secret from Hunter. Her father, Joe (Stephen Cooper), is now in poorer health, although he remains enthusiastic about hurling, hefting around a hurley. Aine’s mother, Bridie (Maureen Adduci), yells at Joe to take his pills, criticizes her two daughters, but loves her family dearly.

As in many dramas, this family is dysfunctional. These people would fit into a soap opera or perhaps a sitcom, but they are far from being one-note. Their words bounce off each other, caustic and loving. Communication is crucial for this family, yet dialogue falls apart like paper being shredded. You would be hardpressed not to feel sorry for their situation, but pity is not the same as empathy. These characters are not written as pitiful victims of misfortune; rather, they love each other in the only ways they know how.

Joe wants to leave the pub to Aine and Hunter to go to the Canary Islands. Her sister, Deidre (Maggie Markham), resents Aine for leaving her behind with her family, but still cares about Aine. Aine is sent away to New York and only returns due to her fiance, unsure of how to tell them. Bridie has a maternal awareness of the family, knowing that Aine living with her family was the cause of her depression; when Bridie originally sent her daughter off to New York, it was out of love, even if Aine did not see it that way.  An ocean might have divided their lives but the affection remains. Joe toasts to Aine’s marriage. Bridie makes efforts to speak with Aine. Deidre and Aine resolve their differences.

Hunter, the American, delivers speeches about the importance of open communication that can border on sappy. Fortunately, his naive ignorance of Irish sensitivities are a good source of humor. His abnormal honesty wins Joe over. In a world of people whose words jab at each other with hidden daggers, Hunter seems oblivious. A jovial character, Hunter is visibly distraught when Aine finally reveals her secret. It is a painful scene to watch.

Should we feel obligated to reveal ourselves entirely? Can relationships be constructed on a bedrock of lies?  We know the truth will out itself (it has a habit of doing so). Despite his promises,  Hunter brings his own happily-ever-after to a halt. The conclusion is not that of comedies like Twelfth Night in which the reveal sets the world right. Instead, it is like life: it is messy; it is gruesome; and here, it is heartbreaking.

The highlight of this play is Deirdre. Played enthusiastically by Markham, she breathes much needed energy and humor into the play. She is quick to speak her mind; verbal fireworks occur between her and every other character. When she is introduced, Aine is surprised that Deirdre is pregnant. Deirdre explains her hopes to be a single mother with such sincerity that even her usual biting sarcasm couldn’t keep the excitement from her voice. When she goes into labor, we laugh sympathetically with her misfortune while celebrating the birth of a new life offstage. Even more heartwarming, her mother, who never hides her disdain of Deirdre’s decision, remains to comfort her.

Every Piece of Me is an exploration of cultural clashes and the moments when communication collapses. It is the story of a family trying to fit together pieces that no longer fit in a heartwarming drama.