Arts and Culture

The Eva Trilogy at a Magic Theatre

By Emily Wilson

“Moist. Breath. Even when it’s cold and dry. Plenty of water in there. Plenty of moisture. Every gasp a little spot of wet in the world,” begins Eden, the first play in The Eva Trilogy, which premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre on October 28, and will run through November 12.

Sitting on her sister’s steps outside of Dublin, Julia McNeal as Eva goes on to deliver a lyrical, funny, unexpected monologue about going off to Paris to live and coming back to take care of her mother, sick with Parkinson’s, while her sister is in Mallorca with her family. The decision Eva made about her mother is expanded on in the other two plays, Enter the Roar, with her family trying to make sense of what she did, and No Coast Road, with Eva as an older woman encountering a young hiker in the Corsican hills.

Playwright Barbara Hammond is not Irish, but she went to live there as a teenager. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, and to her, that meant she needed to go to Ireland or Paris. So she left Wisconsin as a teenager and ended up studying at the University College Dublin. From the time she was 10, Hammond had a map on her wall with pins in all the places she wanted to go. She planned to travel the world. She ended up not going as far as she had thought, and she didn’t finish at UCD, but everything else worked out – she did become a writer.

“I thought Irish people had a way of speaking and a way of being in the world that felt comfortable to me,” she said. “I fell in love with people in a way I didn’t where I was from, and I wanted to share something about the lives I was seeing. That outsider status opened me up.”

Hammond wrote Eden when her own mother was dying of Parkinson’s, not knowing if it would be 10 minutes or two hours, but feeling she had something to say about being a woman. Her mother had a difficult life, she says, and a strong religious belief, but in her illness began to forget God.

Eden got a good reception with the Irish community in New York, and Hammond, who hadn’t planned on adding to the play, says she heard the voice of Roisin, the mother’s hospice helper, speaking in her head. She then went on to write No Coast Road, she said, wanting to show Eve’s whole life.

“It’s one thing not to compromise in your 20s and 30s,” she said. “It’s another in your 60s. I wanted to give her dreams an airing.”

When she was a kid, Hammond thought she’d write children’s books. She used to act out scenes with her dolls and stuffed animals and realized eventually she wanted to write plays, liking the combination of watching people’s behavior and listening to their words.

“The actors are like the paint you put on the canvas,” she said. “Watching human beings in action is intoxicating to me, and I like breathing life into them by giving them something to say.”

We took a minute to talk about the stellar cast of Eva, mentioning in particular McNeal, who carries off the whole first act perfectly and Rod Gnapp as Eamon, who Hammond says is “incapable of being untrue.”

Hammond also said she is grateful to the Magic, for their total faith in the playwrights they work with.

“You have no idea how freeing that is to work with a company that is really trying to realize the plays as you imagine them,” she said. “It sounds kind of simple, but it is rarely the case.”

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