The Irish Repertory Theater has another modest winner in Patricia Burke Brogan’s Eclipsed, about the unwed mothers of Ireland who, until quite recently, were condemned to perpetual slave labor in one of those Magdalen laundries attached to a cloister, under the supervision of mostly draconian nuns. They were not allowed to see their children, in orphanages or given away for adoption, and were not even permitted out of the laundry, to which their families, lovers, or employers committed them. All they had was their desperate camaraderie.
In this numbing world of dirty linen to launder and dirtier floors to mop are five very different young women (one of them not even a mother) under the supervision of Mother (irony!) Victoria, demanding blind obedience, and the kindly novice, Sister Virginia, trying hard to negotiate at least some privileges for the hapless creatures without actually breaking rules.
All this is never boring, and sometimes even humorous, as directed by Charlotte Moore and performed by a fine cast in which Heather O’Neill and Amy Redmond are especially gripping. Why, then, is the evening only touching rather than deeply moving? Is it the lack of background history? Is it the L-shaped configuration of the theater that somehow diffuses intensity? Or is it that a couple of the actresses are a bit too realistically drab?