Irish playwright Patricia Burke Brogan wrote an engagingly poignant play based on her experience as a nun in an infamous convent laundry.
“Eclipsed” is set in Ireland in 1963, when unmarried mothers were still being imprisoned in dark, cold, inhuman laundries, shut off from the rest of the world and forced to do their penance. Set designer Dan Clement has created an old-fashioned hand laundry where five women work, play and bond, breaking the monotony by singing Elvis songs, role playing and sneaking cigarettes.
Mother Victoria (Sharon Carpentier) runs the laundry with an iron fist and a cold heart, treating the unfortunate young women as criminals and sinners that ”no one else wants.” Katie Preston plays the young Sister Virginia, who watches over the penitents, struggling with the strict teachings of a Catholic Church that shows little mercy for these poor women.
While this sounds like a real downer, Brogan, thanks to upbeat direction of Lynne Collinson, shows how the women manage to survive by using their own wits and imaginations. A scene where Bridget (Erin Malcolm) “marries” Elvis is a riot, and another where the women find a tube of lipstick in the wash are both funny and poignant.
Sister Virginia’s faith is pushed to the brink as she questions how the church could be so cruel and how blind obedience could force her to ignore Jesus’ teaching.
The all-female cast is exceptional under Collinson’s direction, taking a controversial subject, showing it for what it was, and yet still injecting humor and hope in the production.
“Eclipsed,” not to be confused with a play with the same name about five Nigerian women, is at The Players, America’s Oldest Little Theatre, 400 Benefit St. on Providence’s East Side.
Performances are October 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 22 at 2 p.m.