‘Woman and Scarecrow’ looks for humor in the end times


In what would seem an unlikely setting for a comedy, “Woman and Scarecrow,” the latest production from the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, tells the humorous story of a woman on her deathbed — if there is such a thing.

The play, written by Marina Carr and directed by Alan Stanford, premieres July 10 at the Henry Heymann Theatre located in the Stephen Foster Memorial.

According to Karen Baum, who plays Scarecrow — a personification of Woman’s (Nike Doukas) alter ego who only she can see — the play, like death, can be an unlikely source of humor.

“Even at funerals, there’s somebody who’s going to start laughing,” Baum said. “For whatever twisted reason, like, ‘that wasn’t the tie that I picked.’ And you just start giggling.”

Despite its lightheartedness, the play also deals with Woman’s reconciliation and her coming to terms with death. In her attempt to feel good about the life she led, Woman converses with her husband Him (James FitzGerald) and her Auntie Ah (Sharon Brady).

Woman’s internal debate with Scarecrow rages throughout the entire performance.

“It’s an argument a woman is having with herself about how she should have lived her life,” Doukas said.

She said Woman is torn between regret and peaceful resolution in her final days.

“She feels like she wasted her life having children and letting her husband cheat on her and … part of her thinks that, ‘I really loved him and I really loved my children,’” Doukas said. “And the other part of her thinks, ‘you hid behind your children, you could have been so much more.’ So it’s this sort of really passionate debate, one that we all have with ourselves.”

With its very relatable themes, “Woman and Scarecrow” has the makings of what Stanford considers a classic play — one that “will be presented in a hundred years.” What makes that even more impressive is that the 2006 play is still in its infancy.

Stanford heralded Carr, who will be in Pittsburgh for the latter end of production and the premiere, as a young playwright brimming with talent.

“Marina Carr is, to my mind, probably the finest new Irish playwright,” Stanford said.

Carr’s other works include “By the Bog of Cats” and “Portia Coughlan,” for which she was awarded the Susan Blackburn Smith Prize in 1997.

“She writes plays that are incredibly direct about the human condition,” Stanford said. “She’s not what you would call conventional — she doesn’t write explanatory dialogue. She just writes the most beautiful dialogue — the way people talk, the way people think.”

Doukas echoed Stanford’s comments, reiterating that Carr’s realistic dialogue is what sets her apart.

“It’s really funny — sort of black, extremely funny humor, great storytelling and really beautiful,” Doukas said. “It’s so poetic without even feeling poetic. It feels like real talking, but it’s so beautiful.”

If the play is to be considered a classic, which Stanford believes people will, Carr’s script may even transcend death — the play’s timeless theme. 

“It is about a fundamental human experience, one of the two human experiences that we all share,” Stanford said. “No matter who you are or where you are on this planet, there are only two things that we are guaranteed to share in experience — one is birth and the other is death. Doing a play about birth isn’t easy.”