Love and heritage play a role in “Sherkin”

Erica Dolson

This fall Villanova Theatre took audiences to “Our Town.” In their latest production, “Prayers of Sherkin,” director James J. Christy and a talented cast will bring audiences to the small island of Sherkin, located off the southwest coast of Ireland.

“Prayers of Sherkin,” written by Dr. Sebastian Barry, professor-in- residence in the English department, takes place during the 1890s and is the story of a small group of religious, “Quaker-like” people living on Sherkin. This sect has been in existence for nearly 100 years, and there are not many members remaining.

The play centers on Fanny Hawke, played by Marcie Thurstlic, a nearly 30-year-old woman in the sect, and her family. As Fanny nears the age to be married, she runs into trouble. Rules of the sect permit her to marry only another member of the sect, but she falls in love with Patrick, portrayed by Jared Delaney, a man from Baltimore on the mainland of Ireland. Fanny must choose between the life she has always known on Sherkin and a new life with Patrick.

In the end, she runs away with Patrick. Although her family is heartbroken by her decision and must shun her due to the principles of the sect, they let her go with kindness.

“Part of the magic of the play is that it is written in a really lovely, magnetic prose,” Dr. Christy said. The play uses its beautiful language to address issues of religion, respect and tolerance. Christy cited scenes in the play in which the evangelical sect, Presbyterians and Irish- Catholics treat each other with deference and humaneness.

“People have said that the play represents a utopian idea of what Ireland should be,” he added.

“Prayers of Sherkin” is a play that all Villanova students can enjoy.

“In one sense, it’s a good love story,” Christy said. It touches on one of the most romantic of notions: finding one’s “other half.” It also has a little bit of a “Romeo and Juliet” storyline in that its two main characters are in love and want to be together but cannot be because of their places in society and their families.

“I think a lot of Villanova [students] are torn between their wishes and their parents’ wishes,” added Christy, naming another idea presented in “Sherkin” to which Villanova students can relate.

In addition to providing Villanovans with a compelling romance, “Prayers of Sherkin” gives a feel for Irish civilization. “Villanova has a pretty spectacular Irish-Catholic heritage. I think oftentimes kids don’t have much knowledge of Irish heritage and culture,” Christy commented. The very way the script is written, full of language and poetic imagery, challenges viewers to really focus and listen to the story and is much like the Irish tradition of storytellers and bards.

Christy and his cast, which includes graduate students, equity actors, a Villanova faculty member and two undergraduate students, began preparations for “Prayers of Sherkin” before Thanksgiving. In addition to read-throughs and rehearsals, they have been discussing the meanings of certain lines and perfecting their Irish brogues.

Preparations are almost complete for opening night, and Christy has even had a chance to do some “actor-oriented” work with the cast on some especially emotional scenes.

The story will be brought to life with an impressive set constructed around the last scene in the play: Fanny’s journey from Sherkin to Baltimore. Christy hopes the use of fog and a theatrical illusion of Fanny sailing on a boat will create a haunting last image. The cast will also be clad in 1890s period costumes, complete with corsets for the women.

“I would have to say we have a really lovely group,” Christy said of his very diverse cast. Cast members range in age from 18 to 60. One of the things Christy likes most about this play is that it includes more than one generation.

Although Christy did a lot of research for this production on his own by visiting Sherkin and Baltimore, watching the original production of “Prayers of Sherkin” and reading reviews of the play, Barry has made appearances to help the cast prepare. In the early stages of production he talked with the cast about his play.

“Just listening to him talk is very inspiring,” Christy said. He also commented that it has been quite helpful to have Barry on campus in case he or any of the actors have questions. “He’s been at a couple of rehearsals, and he’s been very supportive,” Christy added.

“Prayers of Sherkin” will be playing in the Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall from Feb. 7-19. Visit for show times and box office information.