Marina Carr’s third play was written just two years after The Mai and shows how rapidly her distinctive style and voice took shape.
It’s Portia Coughlan’s thirtieth birthday and she’s haunted by her twin brother who died when he was fifteen. The haunting is literal and figurative: we see and hear Gabriel in the same way that Portia does – always in the distance, disappearing before he can be caught.
PORTIA: Came out the womb holdin’ hands – When God was handin’ out souls he must’ve got mine and Gabriel’s mixed up, aither that or he gave us just the one between us and it went into the Belmont River with him – Oh, Gabriel, ya had no right to discard me so, to float me on the world as if I were a ball of flotsam. Ya had no right.
Portia is unable to love her husband or any of her children, turning to drink instead. She has developed a knife sharp tongue and is cruel to those who love her most, but it’s all part of her armour. The play could be terribly dark, but there are pockets of humour thanks to the levity in some of the other characters: like Portia’s ex-prostitute aunt and her ‘eejit’ husband. Here they are, knocking at the door to Portia’s home:
SENCHIL: Don’t strain your voice, pet.
MAGGIE: Alright, pet. Portia! Take the cigarette out of me mouth, pet, stingin’ the sockets of me eyes.
SENCHIL: (Takes cigarette out of her mouth) You want another puff before I put it out, pet?
Portia Coughlin is a tragedy but it’s leavened with laughter and larger-than-life characters. From the foul-mouthed grandmother who’s held her tongue for 80 years and is now going to speak her mind, to the one-eyed friend, known as the Cyclops of Coolinarney, this is a play filled with glorious parts for actors.
While there’s a little bit of VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic in the story, Marina Carr makes the subject matter much more interesting and disturbing.
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Cast: 5F, 6M