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“Temporal Powers” is a beautifully rendered play, while “Voca People” is irresistible fun

Is morality a function of an individual’s economic condition?

It’s a question as old as civilization. When principle collides with the realities of survival, conflict and, often, tragedy are inevitable. In the case of Teresa Deevy’s “Temporal Powers” — now getting a stunning production at The Mint — this collision creates extraordinary theater.

The play was first produced in Ireland in 1932, but it has never before been seen in the US. Michael and Min Donovan are a destitute couple, evicted from their home and forced to live in a makeshift dugout. When Michael finds a packet of cash hidden there, Min believes that Providence has sent relief, but he correctly suspects he’s happened upon the proceeds of a robbery.

Michael refuses to keep the cash, preferring to entrust it to a priest’s safekeeping until its rightful owner can be found. Min attacks Michael for insisting his morality must trump the dire need they face. Even as the mystery of the cash is resolved, the conflict exacts a heartbreaking toll on their relationship. Min excuses Ned Cooney’s robbery of the post office, saying, “It was the poverty that made him do it,” while Michael insists he could not live with the money despite their need.

Still, both Min and Michael are deeply conflicted in the stands they take, and that complexity is at the heart of this play.

Deevy populates her world with characters situated at a wide array of points on the spectrum between moral absolutism and pragmatic accommodation to reality. Each is realized with a clarity that makes “Temporal Powers” vibrantly alive.

Lizzie believes that if she can get Michael’s friend Moses to kiss her, their marriage is inevitable. The priest, a model of expediency but also ineffectualness, is set against Jim Slattery, the voice of secular authority. While this is essentially a play of moral argument, Deevy finds the humanity of each character. Unlike Shaw, whose characters can seem little more than thinly disguised political postures, Deevy places real people on the stage, and we feel for each of them.

Director Jonathan Bank has done an exceptional job of plumbing the depths and conflicts of each character. The result is fluid, intimate, and compelling. Vicki R. Davis’ excellent set — a couple of rooms partially underground — wonderfully conveys the sense of restriction and poverty that underscores what’s at stake for each of these characters and the society they are part of.

The cast, too, is outstanding. Rose Benton gives a fearless and electric performance that, for all its pyrotechnics, has subtleties that make Min inherently sympathetic. Aidan Redmond as Michael, the most conflicted of the characters, whose genuine love for Min is consistently evident, offers a standout performance. The passion that burns between Min and Michael, despite their conflict, creates the tragedy on which the play turns.

Eli James as Moses and Wrenn Schmidt as Lizzie both give fine performances, as does Fian Toibin in the comic relief role as Moses’ mother. The rest of the company — Con Horgan, Bairbre Dowling, Paul Carlin, and Robertson Carricart — add to the evening’s richness and realism.

Deevy’s themes clearly resonate today, but her play also feels contemporary because she doesn’t offer pat resolutions, instead exploring consequences. One leaves the play unsettled but moved — and mindful that moral arguments yield no absolutes.

“Voca People” is a silly and engaging diversion that marries a slim concept with exceptional a capella singing. However much you may be inclined to roll your eyes, it will overcome you with its charm and good spirits.

The premise is that a group of aliens has landed on Earth and needs the power of music to help them get back to their planet. And so, they try to power up their ship by singing a selection of songs that ostensibly catalog human music since the dawn of time, but is really a rapid-fire survey of Western music since the 18th century.

The songs — 70 in all, though some just snippets, clearly selected for their showiness and adaptability — run the gamut from Mozart to Celine Dion. “Voca People” includes enforced audience participation, usually anathema to me, loving my fourth wall as I do, but even I was charmed when an alien stretched out across my lap.

The sheer force of personality, talent, surpassing skill, and whimsy completely won me over, and the 90 minutes flew by — almost, surprisingly, too quickly. As with every other classic alien invasion, resistance is futile and, in this case, would be as silly as the show itself.

Essentials:

TEMPORAL POWERS

Mint Theater

311 W. 43rd St.

Through Oct. 2

Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.

Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.

$55; ovationtix.com

212-315-0231

VOCA PEOPLE

Westside Theatre

403 W. 43rd St.

Mon., Tue., Fri. at 8 p.m.;

Thu. at 7 p.m.

Sat. at 3 & 9 p.m.;

Sun. at 2 & 7 p.m.

$25-$79.50; telecharge.com

Or 212-239-6200

Updated 8:15 pm, August 29, 2018
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