by Sarah Haley
Maeve Binchy, the world renown Irish author, is well known for her ability to translate ordinary lives on to the page to reveal the true, extraordinary nature of each life. On stage, Minding Frankie, adapted by Shay Linehan, is no different. Under the direction of John P. Kelly, SevenThirty’s production remains faithful to the story’s literary roots, despite the transition to the stage. There is strong aesthetic cohesion; the set, blocking, and pacing all reference back to Kelly’s ability to integrate the essence of the novel onto the stage. While this production cannot remain perfectly faithful to the book, it captures the essence of Maeve Binchy’s writing and brings it to life on stage.
Minding Frankie is the bittersweet story of a new father and his child in Dublin during the 1980s. Noel, a hapless man drifting through life, stopping only for a drink at the bar, is contacted by a social worker who claims an old fling of his wants to see him at the hospital. Noel reluctantly heads down to the oncology ward to meet with Stella, only to find that not only is she dying, but she is pregnant with a child – Frankie – that is most likely his. Faced with the prospect of fatherhood, Noel attempts to prepare himself to take in the newborn, all whilst Stella’s social worker, Moira battles with him to place the child in a foster home. Both with the best intentions, they argue over who will end up ‘minding Frankie’.
As Noel and Moira, and a compendium of secondary characters, Lawrence Evenchick and Vivian Burns play off each other very well. The transitions between characters and the costume changes are seamless, which maintains the integrity of the story. Burns and Evenchick’s performances help to unfold the dimensions of the characters; there are no heroes or villains in the story, only people. Burns, playing Moira, explores the complexity of the situation she and Noel have found themselves in. Alone on stage, Moira faces the court as she thinks back to a similar case – one that ended with the death of a child. Burns brings the sense of dread and loneliness to the stage in this isolating scene. Similarly, Evenchick’s performance highlights the character’s dilemma; a man facing parenthood whilst struggling with alcohol addiction. As Noel begins to juggle more things, from taking care of his child to attending school, work, and AA, Evenchick brings a frantic disposition that emphasizes Noel’s difficulties and trials. Moira attempts to remove Frankie from Noel’s care because she is worried that he will not be able to care for the child. On the other side of the coin, Noel does everything he can to prepare himself for fatherhood, to prove to Moira that he is a fit father. Both characters believe they are doing the right thing, and Evenchick and Burns’ chemistry on stage emphasizes the constant battle and struggle the baby Frankie creates.
The playwright weaves in soliloquies that often break the fourth wall, as both Burns and Evenchick pose the questions of their internal monologues to the audience as well as themselves. These soliloquies also further the plot which reveals that the conflicts are darker than they appear at the surface. Moira reckons with the loss of her mother – a woman who never quite connected with her daughter; while Noel confronts his feelings of inadequacy and failure as he works through his addiction. Apart from the soliloquies, the narrative is constructed through the use of multiple short scenes. This can be tedious at times, but it does help to emphasize the passage of time. The play is divided into several small vignettes, with each small scene giving a glimpse into a specific time and moment in the story. It gives the viewer a sense of a page turning with each new scene.
The set itself is a constant reminder of the play’s progenitor. Designed by David Whiteley with scenic art by Andrea Steinwand, the set is comprised of a flat at the back of the stage is painted to mimic the book cover- and no detail is too small, not even the barcode. On stage, mirroring the covers, is an open book. Burns and Evenchick literally walk across the pages of the book as they tell the story. During intermission, the set is rotated to show the side with more pages is on the left, just as a book would look when a story is almost over. Through the pages, the set design plays with levels, further emphasizing the struggle and power balance between the father and the social worker. The set works well to visually expose the themes of the play and connect it back to its literary roots.
Shay Linehan’s Minding Frankie is a serviceable stage adaptation of one of Maeve Binchy’s final novels and stays true to the exploration of the trials and tribulations of life, the vulnerability of humanity and the complexities of living. Playing at the Gladstone Theatre until January 26, Minding Frankie is an emotional, but ultimately heartwarming tale, and it is a much-needed antidote to the winter weather outside.
By Maeve Binchy
Adaptation by Shay Linehan
Directed by John P. Kelly
Featuring Vivian Burns and Lawrence Evenchick
Produced by SevenThirty Productions
January 17th-26th at the Gladstone Theatre, ticket info and showtimes can be found here.
Sarah Haley is a student at Carleton University. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with concentrations in Medieval Studies and Theatre.