In the 50s and 60s Greenwich Village, New York, was at the centre of the American Folk Music revival which gave the world performers such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and, of course, Bob Dylan.
There were also female singers and writers performing there such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and also, on the periphery of this scene, there was an unknown singer-songwriter called Connie Converse. Even though these days she is largely a forgotten figure, her only public performance was on one TV show, there is an intriguing mystery about her as one day she just disappeared and was never seen again.
Elizabeth Converse, Connie was a nickname she picked up when she lived in New York, was brought up by an extremely conventional religious family. She decided to rebel against them by pursuing her dream of being a singer. Along with her friends, wannabee filmmaker Gene Deitch and aspiring writer Iris Montgomery Hawthorne she drinks, smokes and sings. They support her talent as she is caught up in the age-old conflict of either following convention or her artistic inclination.
It is not entirely clear if she really wanted to be famous or even if she desired a singing career. Her friends had to send off the recordings which led to her getting her only television appearance and she seems happier drinking and wallowing in her feelings of loneliness and despair. She is clearly depressed, and it is not simple self-doubt that is stopping her but a diffidence and a detachment from life that is blocking her from being the artist she claims she wants to be.
Xenia Lily, who co-wrote the play with Róis Doherty, played the main part of Connie and her performance was one of understated heartache and alienation. Her singing was good if a tad quiet and, whilst I understand this fitted in with the character, it would have been nice to hear the songs. This was a powerful, nuanced and layered portrayal of a very troubled woman.
Iris, her posh English friend, was played by Hayley Boutty, who also took on the role of Connie’s sister-in-law Judy Converse. Her performance as this church loving character, the epitome of family values, a complete contrast to the idiosyncratic Connie, was bright and strangely effervescent.
Gene Deitch was played by Jonathan Foy, who mastered the New Jersey accent, and he brought out the character’s sensitivity and benevolence. I have to say I have worked with Jonathan, and you can always rely on him to give a skilful and secure performance.
Tom Cunningham, who played Connie’s brother Phillip, had an excellent stage presence and we saw a considerate and gentle sibling who wanted to maintain the peace between his wife and his sister and only wanted the best for Connie.
Whilst this is a mystery the detective side of the piece wasn’t really explored mainly, I suspect, because no one knows what happened to Connie. Danny O’Connell did a capable job as the detective, although I am not sure even plain clothed detectives wear shirts quite as loud as his.
There were one or two slight sound glitches and some of the effects, such as doors being opened, were a bit heavy-handed and not really needed.
Overall, it was a compelling examination of an isolated, lonely life and a thoughtful inquiry into what motivates the artist.
It is on at the King’s Arms until the 26th July – https://manchester.ssboxoffice.com/events/what-happened-to-connie-converse/
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 24th July 2023
North West End UK Rating: