In Search of Owen Roe is a story that begins from nothing. It is about Vanessa O'Neill's journey to discovering who her great-grandfather, Owen Roe, was. From a patch of grass on an unmarked grave in which he is buried under, O'Neill captivates us with her rich family history as she slowly begins to unravel the mystery of her great-grandfather.
O'Neill, is a wonderful storyteller and her ability to interweave various time spans into the show and play a variety of characters is quite masterful. Her use of some subtle but effective props strengthen the performance, especially Annie Edney's creation of O'Neill's family tree and the map of Ireland. It was extremely beneficial as an audience member to have these guides to refer to intermittently, to keep us grounded with all the characters and time periods.
I feel more emphasis was needed on Owen Roe himself however, as at times it felt like the story went off on a tangent. As touching and emotive as it was to hear about O'Neill's father's battle with Alzheimers, it was not what I ultimately wanted to learn about, as it did not do much to further Owen Roe's story. My attention was all on Roe and some refinement to ensure that he remains the focal point of In Search of Owen Roe is necessary.
Darius Kedros' sound design goes a long way in creating the worlds that O'Neill describes and the way her inner thoughts and the ghost-like voices are executed is exceptional. The lighting design by Richard Vabre builds on this shroud of mystery and intrigue, and the moments where shadows are cast on the walls play with this idea well.
At one point in In Search of Owen Roe, O'Neill ask us, and herself, who exactly was her great-grandfather and why does she even care? The answer is simple; we care because without our ancestors, stories cease to exist. We need to remember the past in order to create a future, and while we walked out not completely knowing who Owen Roe was, it seems like O'Neill has discovered more than enough to keep his memory - and his stories - alive.
In Search of Own Roe was performed at La Mama June 24 - July 5.