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‘Thirst’ Review: The Immigrant Limbo Between Ambition and Anxiety

Kate Fitzgerald and Aimee Doherty in "Thirst."
Kate Fitzgerald and Aimee Doherty in "Thirst." By Courtesy of Mark S. Howard
By Kinnereth S. Din, Contributing Writer

In “Thirst,” pots and pans fly and sharp words are launched from sharper tongues as both tender sympathies and awful traumas are shared. Running from Feb. 27 to March 17 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, the confines of the play’s intimate kitchen set emphasizes the claustrophobia, familial loyalty, and helplessness that emanate throughout “Thirst,” creating an emotionally gripping whirlwind from start to finish.

“Thirst” is the story of intense want amidst a limbo of aspirations and anxieties as Bridget Conroy (Aimee Doherty) attempts to aid her niece Cathleen (Kate Fitzgerald), who has just immigrated from Ireland. Bridget grapples with her own alcoholism and abandonment even as her spunky niece and love interest Jack Smythe (Michael Kaye) challenge the status quo.

The personal intimacy of “Thirst” likely stems from the Irish immigrant history that director Courtney O’Connor and playwright Ronán Noone share. Moreover, its scale is minimized through the presence of only three actors, who give fantastic performances that express the vicious push and pull between trauma and hope, obligations and freedom, and the past and present. Fitzgerald’s and Doherty’s electric back-and-forth portray the close and personal tension of Cathleen and Bridget’s tumultuous relationship.

As Bridget and Cathleen work through lifetimes of trauma on their shoulders, the million words left unsaid between the two women makes for a compelling and intriguing dynamic. Fitzgerald and Doherty present love and loyalty with engrossing palpability as their characters navigate tensions and trials. Kaye’s Jack achieves the role of trusted confidant and emphatically flawed friend well, providing a foil to Doherty’s stubborn Bridget and Fitzgerald’s charming Cathleen.

Fitzgerald, Doherty, and Kaye all pace back and forth throughout the play — washing this dish, setting that table, shoving that pan into the oven. Though these repetitive motions may seem monotonous, they instead hypnotize the audience, providing a sense of realism that adds dimension to the play’s personal tone. “Thirst” achieves such authenticity through its clever humor, which is a force in itself. Characters exchange jabs as a vehicle for plot and character revelation. The humor provides surprising moments of levity, even as it remains faithful to a dark biting Irish sarcasm.

Scenic designer Janie E. Howland and props artisan Lauren Corcuera are responsible for the play’s remarkable stage design, which features a kitchen populated with meager household props. The warm, simple assortment adds a cozy lived-in touch, allowing tension and tender moments to bounce within the theater.

David Remedios’s sound design is deliberate and intentional, making each scene come alive. From a blaring foghorn to announce a break in an argument, to the incessant demands of the Tyrone family the main characters work under, to the ringing peal of a slammed door, each sound echoes around the circular theater, further enhancing the closeness of its setting. It is amongst these loud arguments and emotional outbursts that the quiet, domestic moments of preparing breakfast or reading a letter especially shine — necessary pauses in pacing which will linger with the audience.

The ending, however, sticks in the memory less definitively. With the last few scenes coming across as narratively rushed, those leaving the theater may feel emotionally lost. It is as if the tensions that the play investigates and pulls at cannot be unraveled. At the end of the play, Cathleen and Bridget’s endings prove inconclusive. Instead, they begin yet another immigration, intending to adjust to a brand new life. The final scene, while executed well, stings slightly, as those who witnessed this little kitchen for two hours do not expect it to wrap up in such an abrupt manner.

Despite its ambivalence, however, the play’s resolution leaves audiences sober, melancholic, and with many questions long after the dimmed lights return to their full brightness. The ending isn’t neat, or happy, or even entirely satisfying. But perhaps satisfaction is withheld with an artful deliberateness. The play is real and raw, aptly leaving audiences with what its title promises: a lingering sense of unquenched thirst.

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