Review: We Wait In Joyful Hope, Theatre503

“My God’s out there. That’s why I go out in that van. Each night I sit behind the wheel and, believe me, I pray. But with the engine running and the headlights on”

Brian Mullin’s first play as part of the 503Five Writer-in-Residence scheme is We Wait In Joyful Hope, directly inspired by his aunt, a nun who helped to found a successful NY women’s shelter. Thus the central character here is a nun who helped to found a women’s shelter, in New Jersey though, where it has been helping people for over 30 years. They say write about what you know but in this case, it does feel occasionally that Mullin could have done with a bit of distance to really make the drama work.

For Sister Bernie D’Amato is an absolutely cracking character, played with intelligent and varied depth by Maggie McCarthy, but the play around her doesn’t quite match up. D’Amato is battling the spectre of gentrification as property buyers are wrecking the community, the patriarchy of the church hierarchy against whom she’s always had to fight and her own failing health too. But in among all this, Mullin rarely ventures out to deal with any of these larger themes on which he touches, there’s little that’s truly dramatic.

The play is literally kept captive in Bernie’s living room, thus too many confrontations are reported rather than shown. And the cast of supporting characters offer little insight into anything more than archetypes – the streetwise kid, the hapless widow, the dodgy priest, you’ve seen them all before. Katherine Heath’s set design is effectively detailed and Lisa Cagnacci’s direction does its best to infuse tension into what would otherwise be fatally static, but one is left feeling that Mullin needs to pick a subject he can delve into more forcefully if he’s to live up to his potential.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th June

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