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July 21, 2004

The Cuchulain Cycle

by Ted Hoover

Just to show you how much I know I'll let you in on a secret: I have (or had) no idea who the hell Cuchulain was. A whole nation of people - in his case Ireland - regard him as their greatest folk hero/warrior, but it was all news to me until the Kells Theatre staged The Cuchulain Cycle, five one-acts by W.B. Yeats about this glorious man-myth.

Yeats selected five highpoints in the Cuchulain legend and dramatized them in short, concise works. It's easy to see evidence of Yeats' day job in the writing - the work is suffused with poetical flowering and the word images he creates can be, at times, beautiful. Dramaturgically speaking, there's no much complexity on stage - but I think that may have been Yeats' goal: folk plays about a folk legend.

The Kells Theatre production team is mostly a bunch of PhDs from Pitt, so the results can get a little precious - the Noh Theatre-inspired first act and the dance-laden final act are, perhaps, more thesis-oriented than audience-friendly.

But at no point is the evening anything less than intelligent and shot through with integrity and talent. A uniformly strong cast, led by an impressive Corey Rieger and Mark Thompson, coupled with precise direction, give interesting life to this literary curiosity.