Pictured (l-r): Erdin Schultz-Bever, Annie Kalahurka, Kaitlin Gould, and Ras Badejo. Photo by Brian Paulette.
By Malonda Hutson
During a period of four years beginning in 1848, the Orphan Emigration scheme, concocted by Henry Grey (the third Earl Grey), delivered over 4000 young women from Irish workhouses to the shores of Austrailia, intended to help fix a gender imbalance in the colonies, offering a life away from the great Irish famine. A particularly rowdy bunch, known for their obscene language and riotous behavior, were known as the Belfast Girls. This sad and unfamiliar part of Irish history is brought to life in Jaki McCarrick’s character study of 5 women, BELFAST GIRLS, now playing in Fishtank’s production at La Esquina (1000 W. 25th St.).
The setting is the belly of a ship with cargo crates outlining the well-constructed room where all of the story takes place. Thick wooden poles provide the framework for the room where all of the characters live for months aboard the ship in Mark Exline’s effective set design. Hammocks are strung from pole to pole, making excellent use of the small space, including ladders on the sides and a deck up top.
The pace takes some time to pick up in act one, until Molly (Lindsay Lilling) arrives, and the already crowded four agree to squeeze in another bunkmate. The tension doesn’t really increase until the story begins to truly unfold after intermission.
The cast of 5 is a well-rounded ensemble. However – though they are quite easy to hear in the space – the sometimes inconsistent thick accents are often tiring to concentrate on. The lighting and sound designs, too, at times detract more than they add, often pulling the audience out of the moment. Overall, Heidi Van’s flat production just doesn’t do enough to suck you in. I thought it was over twice before it really ended, and by the third, I was ready to be done. The absence of basic amenities like a water fountain or concessions during a two-and-a-half-hour performance doesn’t help.
BELFAST GIRLS runs through April 29th. For more information visit fishtanktheatre.com.