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Review: 'By the Bog of Cats' at Theatre Banshee is suitably haunting

Steeped in star-crossed tragedy, mordant humor and paranormal activity — in other words, an Irish play to its core — Marina Carr’s contemporary take on the story of Medea, “By the Bog of Cats,” elicits suitably haunting performances from Theatre Banshee.

Not merely the mythological avenger of romantic betrayal, Medea’s present-day incarnation, Hester Swain (Kacey Camp), has evolved into a more complex victim of socioeconomic oppression, though her parenting practices still leave something to be desired.

A reclusive gypsy facing exile from the marshlands where she grew up, Hester has become an increasing nuisance to the community now that her longtime lover, Carthage (Joseph Patrick O’Malley), has dumped her to wed a rich heiress (Erin Barnes). Caught in the tug of war between Hester and Carthage, their 7-year old daughter (Talyan Wright) is more than just offstage collateral damage — she’s the focal point of Camp’s powerfully conflicted portrayal.

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Unlike the self-pitying narcissists who populate far too many modern plays, this Hester fiercely combats hypocrisy in a bid for self-determination. Even though the attempt is spectacularly doomed (that Irish thing again), there are principles at stake in her struggle.

A bigger budget would admittedly have benefited the production, but Sean Branney’s atmospheric staging and superb casting bring vivid life to Carr’s idiosyncratic characters. Perhaps most notable is the blind seer the locals call Catwoman (Casey Kramer) who gnaws on dead mice and laps wine from a saucer while dispensing her unheeded prophesies.

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“By the Bog of Cats,” Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 8. $20. (818) 846-5323 or www.theatrebanshee.org. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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