Courtesy of Elizabeth Jennings

Classic Irish tale comes to life at USC

USC students can experience one of the most mystical Irish dramas right here in Columbia with the Theater and Dance Department's performance of "By the Bog of Cats." The production, written by Irish playwright Marina Carr, premiered in 1998 in Dublin, Ireland, but USC students are bringing the show to campus the first weekend of December.

The director, Conor Gallagher, is a fourth-year theatre student at USC and has been practicing theater since he was about 6 years old. Gallagher became interested in the play while studying Marina Carr in at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin last semester. 

Heavily rooted in its Irish setting and culture, "By the Bogs of Cats" follows protagonist Hester Swane through motherhood, witchcraft and experiencing hate and prejudice. After reading the play, Gallagher came back to USC's campus hoping to contribute to its production in his final semester.

“It tells the story of a woman who is discriminated against simply for what she is,” said Gallagher. “I think that it’s a show about injustice and just the horrible things that a person can be pushed to if they are discriminated against long enough.” 

Cast member Rachael Bates is also a fourth-year theatre student and describes the story itself as magic.

“By the Bog of Cats is a dark story that takes place in a magical kind of world,” Bates said in an email. “I mean, it takes place in Ireland, but it is also within some realm of magic.”

Bates has the interesting challenge of playing a 7-year-old, despite being a half a foot taller than the actress playing her mother. Her role of Josie Kilbride, the daughter of the main character, allowed Bates to return to a childlike state of mind.

“Josie is very free and light, and she’s a kid with a wit too,” said Bates. “The play is definitely a tragedy, but Josie brings a softer, lighter side to the show.” 

First-year English student Ezri Fender, who plays the main character Hester Swane, says that this role has been an incredible, emotional experience for her.

“With Hester being such a complex character, I’ve had to play her both as an antihero and a villain,” Ezri said in an email. “Also knowing people much like Hester, it has been very difficult to embody her character without getting my own life and emotions too involved.”

Auditions began at the beginning of the semester and the cast has preparing for Friday's opening night since October. It will take place at the Lab Theatre in the Booker T. Washington building, a venue that Bates is particularly excited about. 

“The Lab is a smaller, intimate blackbox setting, which really allows you to be immersed in the world of the play,” said Bates in an email. “You will walk in to the lab and be immediately transported into our magical Irish bog.” 

As this is Gallagher’s last production as a USC student, he is thrilled to incorporate what he learned abroad into a performance on campus. Gallagher hopes to continue his theater career in New York City after graduation. 

“I've always loved Ireland. It was a privilege to get to go to Ireland and to bring back something that I worked on while I was there," Gallagher said. "I think that it’s a really great way to round out my time at USC.”

The production will run from Dec. 1 to 4 with recurring shows at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are are available online or at the door. 

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