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“Love, Self-Sacrifice and Rage”: WSU Theater Presents Irish Tale “By the Bog of Cats”

Bog Of Cats | Photo by Wright State Theatre | The Wright State Guardian

Wright State University Theater presents “By the Bog of Cats,” a fusion of Greek myth and Irish culture.

Setting up the stage

Junior Acting major Emma Massey explained that “By the Bog of Cats” follows a woman named Hester Swain who tries to keep her family together despite her partner marrying another woman. 

“The story follows her as she returns to her childhood home and tries to keep her partner and her daughter and everything in her life together as it seems to be falling apart around her,” Massey, who plays the leading role of Swain, said.

Massey describes Hester Swain as an Irish traveler who is strong willed, passionate and kind of stubborn but willing to go to great lengths for what she loves.

Prepping for the show

After the auditions and callbacks concluded last semester, Massey prepared to bring Swain to life, including the unique challenge of perfecting Swain’s regional Irish accent, since rehearsals started at the beginning of the semester.

Intensive rehearsals take place four or five times a week in the lead up to a show, giving Professor of Acting and Musical Theatre Deborah Thomas time to give the actors guidance to create the unique Irish accents demanded by the play. Thomas has served as a voice, speech and dialect coach for every departmental production since the fall of 2008, which is approximately six shows a year. This includes the recent performance of Cabaret, which included German accents.

“It’s a gritty theme. It’s a gritty set. It’s a dialect that most of our students, in my time here, I don’t think we’ve used a lot,” Thomas said.

Assignments by Thomas include a watchthrough of the show “Darby Girls” to see the accents in performance. Thomas remarks that this is probably one of the hardest dialects the students have tackled.

Bringing an accent to theatre performances brings its own unique challenges. Sometimes an accent may be hard to understand for an American audience or a word needs to change for projection purposes.

Bog of Cats mythos

“By the Bog of Cats” is loosely based on the myth of Medea, a Greek sorceress best known for her role in the myth of Jason retrieving the golden fleece.

Thomas describes the main themes of “By the Bog Cats” as thwarted love, self-sacrifice and rage.

“It’s certainly present to us that women are allowed to feel rage because that is often suppressed in our society. I think the two things that I found most interesting about this were that in the first reading, I could sense the rage, but they found the actor and the director Gina Handy Minyard, and they found the love and the humor,” Thomas said.

Guest Director Gina Handy Minyard was largely reached by WSU because “By the Bog of Cats” is a feminist work. In the Magnolia Theatre Company, Minyard directed works with similar themes.

Minyard began directing 10 years ago. Long-term Artistic Director Joe Deer approached Minyard to see if she would be interested in the show. 

“I am a big advocate for female-driven work and for shows that empower women, and I have a theatre company that is based on that very mission. And so I think [Deer] thought it was very fitting for me because the play’s written by Ireland’s most famous female playwright, and it’s a female-driven show,” Minyard said.

Minyard worked with all the designers and faculty to bring the show together, including lighting, sets and sound, for the unique performance, a mix of old and new.

“The Greeks were really the culture that was expanding theater in big ways and [“By the Bog of Cats”] takes that story and infuses it into Irish modern culture,” Minyard said.

While Minyard remarks that balancing the time of the students, especially the understudies, was one of the production’s biggest challenges, both Minyard and Thomas say the students have more than risen to the challenges.

“Our students never cease to amaze me,” Thomas said. “At this stage of my life, nothing can compare to watching a student grapple with a difficult concept in the studio classroom, watch them continue that struggle in rehearsal, and then watch as it suddenly all comes together for them. It might happen in rehearsal. It might happen in performance. Either way, it’s an absolute thrill to witness those epiphanies when they do happen. Better than any bow I can take for myself. It’s truly a privilege to witness their growth and to feel that maybe I played some small part in that.”

Sound director James Dunlap composed original music for “By the Bog of Cats” to further bring the myth to life.

Dates and Tickets

Here are the remaining performance dates for “By the Bog of Cats”:

Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, 2 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, 8 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, 2 p.m.

Readers interested in seeing the show can purchase tickets at the Wright State Box Office

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