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Death doesn’t become this play

When in doubt, shout. Such is the sensibility that director Braham Murray brings to Edna O’Brien’s “Haunted” at 59E59 — and not without reason.

When in doubt, shout. Such is the sensibility that director Braham Murray brings to Edna O’Brien’s “Haunted” at 59E59 — and not without reason. The play’s penchant for melodrama lends itself to histrionics, which is a bit odd considering the humor inherent in its basic premise.
Upon meeting young Hazel (Beth Cooke), 60-ish Mr. Berry (Niall Buggy) becomes immediately infatuated. He tells her that his wife recently died, and gives her one of Mrs. Berry’s dresses — a precedent that blossoms into an addiction. The problem is that Mrs. Berry (Brenda Blethyn) is very much alive and increasingly alarmed at her dwindling wardrobe. But the situation’s comic possibilities are barely touched upon.

Mr. Berry gets into a routine of seeing — but not touching — Hazel while the Mrs. is at work. Overheated confrontations between Mrs. Berry, who senses something’s up, and her husband get resolved offstage between scenes, until an unexpected appearance late in Act II obliterates everything.

For all its shortcomings, “Haunted” is not without charm. All three characters are exquisitely drawn by the playwright and vividly portrayed by the cast. Buggy’s Mr. Berry is an oversized leprechaun, full of blarney and the gift of gab. Blethyn magically combines a borderline shrew with an unfairly bruised romantic who’s as much of a dreamer as her poetry-quoting husband. And the fragility of Cooke’s Hazel is touching.

 
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