By the Bog of Cats opens with Hester Swane dragging the corpse of a black swan across the stage, preparing to bury it in the frozen ground of the bog on which she lives. Hester is obviously upset, and the reason soon emerges: Her ex-lover, Carthage (Jason Maniccia), is forcing her out of her home. Though Hester and Carthage have a child together, he is marrying another woman in an attempt to leave his past behind.
Hester refuses to leave the bog, partly because she believes that her own mother, who abandoned her as a child, will one day return. Her insistence on staying, and her attempts to win back Carthage, begin to take their toll on her daughter, Josie (Gracie Starr). The swan is only the first of many dead to appear on the CoHo stage, as ghosts wander among the living and the script unfurls to its inevitable bloodbath of an ending.
Marina Carr's script, borrowing from the myth of Medea, taps into some very elemental issues: the dark legacies that pass from parent to child, and the way that unrequited love can warp and twist a person. The script is a character actor's dream, full of juicy female characters who get raging drunk, shriek like harpies, and commune with spirits.
There are some solid performances here, most notably by Vana O'Brien as Carthage's deliriously bitchy mother and Chrisse Roccaro as a well-meaning neighbor. Other cast members dial it in: Jason Maniccia and Gary Brickner-Shulz are better than this, while Marilyn Stacey's Hester lacks any sensitivity or nuance.
Even the best efforts of the cast are confounded by two things: the demands of sustaining an accent for two hours, and the heavy-handed direction of Merril Lynn Taylor, which has the actors endlessly crisscrossing the stage, as though pacing was a compelling method of emotional expression (it's not). One of the finest moments in the show comes from Amaya Villazan as Caroline, Carthage's new wife: She's standing perfectly still, and she flubs the accent, but her teary little speech has far more emotional impact than any of Hester's histrionics. It's a bad sign when you root for the main character to die: In that sense, at least, I wasn't disappointed.