Director Headrick returns to the scene of an outrage in “Eclipsed”

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

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Time has passed since Charlotte Headrick first directed Patricia Burke Brogan’s play “Eclipsed,” but its impact on the director hasn’t diminished since that first production in 1999.

Now, 25 years later, Headrick is directing a new production of Burke Brogan’s prize-winning play, based on a real-life outrage — the notorious Magdalene laundries, mostly Roman Catholic institutions that essentially imprisoned young women who became pregnant outside of marriage or young girls or teenagers without familial support.

Headrick’s production of “Eclipsed” opened Friday, March 1 at Albany Civic Theater for the first of a six-show run. (See the bottom of this story for details and ticket information.)

Cast members of “Eclipsed” rehearse a scene from “Eclipsed,” Patricia Burke Brogan’s play about the Magdalene laundries. The Albany Civic Theater production, directed by Charlotte Headrick, opened Friday, March 1 for the first of six performances. (Photo courtesy of Leta Brown.)

Burke Brogan was an Irish playwright, artist and poet who saw the inner workings of a Magdalene laundry as a young nun. Shortly afterward, she left the Sisters of Mercy but never forgot what she saw at the institution.

“It never left her, what she saw and witnessed,” said Headrick. “It stayed with her.”

Burke Brogan wrote a short story about the experience and then a one-act play. The Irish journalist and theater critic Fintan O’Toole encouraged her to expand the one-act play, and “Eclipsed” was the result.

The play was controversial when Burge Brogran wrote it; no major Irish theater company would touch the play, a measure of the power the Irish Roman Catholic church still held at the time. Eventually, a small company, Punchbag Theater, mounted the first production in 1992. (The last Magdalene laundry didn’t close until 1996.)

Headrick, a longtime theater professor at Oregon State University, lists women Irish playwrights as among her academic interests, so she knew about “Eclipsed.” In 1999, while on a sabbatical at Western Kentucky University, she submitted a list of possible plays she could direct to the theater program there and was delighted when “Eclipsed” was selected.

The production was invited to a festival at Indiana University, and as they worked to strike the set, a crew member told Headrick: “You’re not done with this play.”

He was right.

Over the next two decades, Headrick wrote papers and essays about the play. She traveled to Ireland to meet with Burke Brogan. When Burke Brogan died in 2022, Headrick wrote her obituary.

“She said on several occasions that I was very important to her,” Headrick said. “I don’t know if this is true, but she said that I was the first academic to show an interest in her work. And, as I said in her obituary, I won’t be the last.”

The play itself, Headrick said, “plays like a house on fire. It’s less than two hours long, with the intermission.” And, although it deals with a serious topic, it’s got moments of lightness, she said: “There’s humor in it. And there’s song in it.”

The new production also gives Headrick a chance to work with some technological advances that weren’t available for that 1999 show at Western Kentucky University: For the Albany Civic production, she’ll use the theater’s projection capabilities to display the names of each scene, as Burke Brogan originally wrote in the play.

The play features an all-female cast, and Headrick said there’s not a bad role in the show. “I’m proud of these actresses; they have worked so hard,” she said.

Working with a new cast allows Headrick to explore different choices than she made in the 1999 production. But at least one thing about the play remains the same, she said:

“It is a powerful piece of theater.”

If You Go

What: “Eclipsed,” by Patricia Burke Brogan; directed by Charlotte Headrick.

Where: Albany Civic Theater, 111 W. First St in Albany.

When: Saturday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, March 3, at 2:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, March 7-9, at 7:30 p.m.

How much: Tickets are $17 for adults, $14 for juniors under 19, seniors over 60, members of the U.S. military and veterans and holders of Oregon Trail Cards. Click here for ticket information.

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