Hugh Leonard's Love in the Title is a family reunion play in which three generations of Irish women, played by Monica Wahola Lewis, Nicole Capstick and Amber Taylor of Wilde Playhouse, meet and bicker by a strange rock that sits smack in the middle of a summer meadow in County Limerick. Oddly, they're all young women: Grandmother Cat is 20 and thinks it's 1932; mother Triona is 30 and thinks it's 1964; granddaughter Katie is a 37-year-old from 1999. You sit through the play just waiting for Katie to scold her grandmother, "When I was your age ..."
Leonard doesn't explain exactly how this meeting is possible, and he spares us an expository scene of bewilderment and introductions. We meet the women in midconversation on and beside the rock (a nicely designed prop by Bill Galbreath); they obviously know each other fairly well, though walls remain, due in large part to differences in age and the times in which they lived. Triona, for example, isn't particularly happy about the company; she's shocked by the kittenish improprieties of her 20-year-old mother and keeps her self-sufficient 37-year-old daughter at arm's length.
At first, it seems as if the meeting might be taking place in Katie's mind, as she sits and paints the scene. But Triona and Cat delve into personal histories that clearly exceed Katie's 1990s imagination, and Katie shows little interest in the origins of her mother's attitudes. But Katie is no idiot; she's a comfortably successful novelist who slides the word "love" into each of her titles. "That's not how you write books," she responds to a challenge from Triona, "that's how you sell them."
What playwright Leonard is trying to sell here is a women's social history of Ireland through the 20th century, from the oppressed yet free-spirited Cat to the prim and cold Triona (motto: For every wound there must remain a scar) to the proudly independent yet socially confused Katie.
Leonard stumbles over some of the stones he's scattered throughout the meadow of his script; the characters, who have more in common than they can realize, are yet a bit too different from one another, and the differences seem more than generational. Although it's great fun to follow their two hours of bluntly delivered opinions, the women occasionally swerve toward stereotype. Cat, in particular, sometimes seems like little more than a colleen from an Irish Spring commercial, and Triona's mean social conservatism isn't fully motivated.
Yet director Joan O'Dwyer avoids, as much as she can, letting the actresses fall into caricature. At the same time, she wisely elects not to "develop" the characters beyond Leonard's parameters, for that would be cheating. The flaw of Katie's novels, as Katie herself explains it, is that her characters don't undergo the obligatory "sea change" before the end, and neither do Leonard's characters, at least not in this play. They can't, for that would change history--family and social.
The most consistently fine element of this production is Lewis, as 20-year-old grandmother Cat. Girlish and frisky, she's slightly emotionally immature, but is quickly and vivaciously assembling a personal mythology to help her cope with past and future travails. Taylor is also fine as granddaughter Katie, the most mature and settled of the women yet who harbors secret doubts about the course of her life. Capstick's Triona is less satisfying--with her conservative, Jackie Kennedy suit and hairdo and her priggish, scolding, accusatory lines, Triona needs a steadier, sterner portrayal than that provided by the petulant, coquettish Capstick.
Love in the Title is less a conventional play than a slice of life, or rather, three slices of Irish social history served up in the same picnic basket. People who just can't get past the play's central fantasy, which allows the three women to meet in their youths rather than have their ideas colored by long decades of experience, probably don't have much sympathy for traditional Irish culture. When Cat is scolded for believing wild Irish folk tales, she says of her interest in a story, "For me, I have to like it before it's real."