Ciara: can high culture save you when the chips are down? A Fringe review.

Linda Grass in Ciara, Trunk Theatre. Photo by db photographics.

By Liz Nicholls,

Ciara (Stage 28, The Playhouse)

Ciara’s favourite painting, she tells us at the outset, is of a giant woman, asleep on her side atop the cityscape of Glasgow. What will happen when she wakes up? That’s what the elegant woman before us wonders at the outset.

It’s a question that gets answered, in person, in this fascinating, expanding monologue by the Scottish playwright David Harrower. Ciara, who owns a successful commercial art gallery, is the daughter of a Glasgow crime boss, now deceased, and she’s married to his successor.

Ciara has escaped, or retreated, or barricaded herself in a world of classy culture that has “clients” not “customers.” And in the story she tells, conjuring an increasingly ruthless network of cousins and bodyguards and family friends and hit men, the Glasgow underworld is refusing to stay under. In a way that will remind you a bit of The Sopranos or The Godfather, petty crime and its elaborate, if dubious, family values system are ceding to higher stakes.

In a performance where calm bemusement gradually escalates into turbulence, Grass draws us in. And, like the clear-eyed, smiling Ciara, who “expects no sympathy,” we find ourselves in a dangerous world ruled by unscrupulous and ruthless men.

When the chips are down, as they apparently are quite often on the mean streets of Glasgow, where do moral responsibility and moral accommodation get compatible? The story escalates, and in a horrifying way as you might expect from a Harrower (Blackbird, Good With People). And the woman who tells us this is not a confession, explanation, or an excuse at the outset, opens her eyes to a new Glasgow, and makes adjustments. That the trigger is an artist, and a painting, and Ciara’s relationship with both, is an irony that isn’t lost on her.

There are pauses in odd places in Amy DeFelice’s production. But in Grass’s performance, we meet a watchful woman who’s her father’s daughter. A woman who discovers something, but has always known more than she even knew she knew. 

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