DEIRDRE RETROGRADE – Synopsis and Character Breakdown

Full Length Drama, 2 Acts; Running time approx. 2 hrs.


A witch. A king. A prophecy. A frustrated beauty takes her destiny – and her man –
into her own hands. An elopement. Revenge. Betrayal. Magic. The power of the spoken word. These elements simmer and boil over in the cauldron that is Deirdre’s story.

Deirdre, the heroine of Irish myth, takes charge of her own life by defying a prophecy made at her birth. With humor and pathos, a secluded adolescent girl “finds her voice”. She awakens to life, love and her own creativity by using the power of her own words as magic language — poetry as spell-casting.

Raised in seclusion, the female Druid and witch Levorcham is Deirdre’s spiritual guide, educating her in magic. Levorcham invites us into the circle she casts; the events in the play happen “in and out of time”, a kind of time travel.

Defying efforts to control her, Deirdre runs off with the man she chooses – the warrior, Nye. They are pursed across continents by Conchobor, the King she was promised to, who seems to relent and forgive, only to betray them. Guided by her intuition, it is the story of Deirdre’s autonomy even when her fortunes turn.

Springing from Levorcham’s cauldron, the characters in this ancient Irish myth re-live their story to understand the forces still binding them. They are being tested: free will versus fate, independence versus duty, jealousy versus unconditional love, revenge versus forgiveness. They know they are being tested; does that help them make better choices this time around?

Exploring our ideas about beauty and power, learning and forgiveness, the play asks: Can a prophecy be outwitted? How many times must we repeat our mistakes in order to learn? Just how hard is it to forgive each other? Can we forgive or is this a journey we’re bound to keep repeating?

A classic Celtic romance in the genre of Tristan and Isolde, Deirdre’s story goes further: it celebrates the driving, creative female spirit as a harbinger of love, knowledge and change.

The images in the stage actions could be interpreted through masks, puppets, shadow play, projection, movement, choreography – or talents unique to the producing company. Some of the images exist as specific photographs of mine, created during my career as a working photographer. Those could be made available should they serve a company’s production vision.


She is a young, creative woman searching, aching to “find her voice” from the core of her individuality. She is “in the becoming”, in the process of change. She is an initiator, who takes action. She’s slotted to become Queen – but finding her true identity means more to her. She risks all to take charge of her own destiny. In that sense, she is a spiritual warrior. Over the course of the play, she grows from a precocious, impatient adolescent into a wise woman. 

In many re-tellings of her legend, Deirdre comes down to us as a mystical dream of beauty.  Her story  is known as “one of the three sorrowful tales of Ireland”;  she is sometimes referred to as “Deirdre of the Sorrows” (after the title of J.M. Synge’s play).  She has also been called “the Irish Helen of Troy”.  These characterizations seemed passive to me, for such a dynamic character initiating such decisive action. She needed to tell her own story.

Celtic myth is rich in female characters who represent the active, creative aspect of the feminine. In the cosmology of myth, Deirdre represents the solar nature of the Goddess and the creative, driving force of the female to bestow true love and knowledge.
She represents the life force.

She is a poet, Druid, and wise-woman. She is a witch – someone in touch with the immanent divinity of nature and in tune with he natural world all around her. She sees the shift from matriarchy, where the power of both sexes is honored and respected, to patriarchy, where the feminine is feared and devalued. She understands this imbalance to be a recipe for disaster. The story of Deirdre is the story of that seismic force at work in personal relationships. Levorcham believes in the ultimate re-emergence of The Divine Feminine; she believes in our ability to re-balance and ultimately heal our world. Magic and ritual are her prayer and worship. As she casts her circle, the events of the play can be seen as happening, both “in and out of time”.

She is Deirdre’s tutor, mentor and spiritual guide. This comes as an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted responsibility, but one that Levorcham accepts completely, seriously and fulfills admirably. 

Ancient Ireland was an oral culture. News was carried by the poets and bards and recited as story and poem. In that sense, they were the media of their day. A poet could not be barred from any place and had freedom to go anywhere – hence, Levorcham “can’t be kept out “.  In many ways, poets were more powerful than kings; poets could make or break a king’s reputation. She speaks truth to power. In some ways she is the character with the most power, and the play pivots on her. 

Levorcham could be played as a beautiful mid-life woman at the height of her powers, or she could be played as the ancient wise-woman – The Crone.  Levorcham and the King call each other “ancient” or “old” but there is a great deal of leeway in casting here. What did “old” mean in Iron-age Ireland? As a witch, Levorcham might appear as she wishes to appear. But there should be a clear age difference between her and Deirdre.

The King of Ulster. When the play opens and Deirdre is born, he is a strong virile man, perhaps feeling the weight of his new responsibilities as King. How much he ages over the course of the play is a casting /directing choice and there is leeway here. At the height of his powers, he might be an attractive older man who is still very much in charge. There should be a clear age difference between him and Nye.

Although he represents the forces of patriarchy and the drive for domination and control, he really represents the need to be in control that all of us experience and is inherent in the human psyche. His name means “willful and desirous” – something we all understand. How do we use those impulses? Given a chance to lead, does one become a Jed Bartlett or a Tony Soprano? How do we handle the power we’re given? How many current world leaders does he resemble?

An Ulster Warrior. The King’s best. Young. Handsome. He has the privileges of a Rock star. His life is just fine, thank you very much. Deirdre is an unexpected, unwanted force – a bolt out of the blue. It can be argued that his life undergoes the most radical transformation and that he undergoes the most drastic change as a character.

After his initial resistance, his heart opens to Deirdre. As he opens to life and love, he is transformed.

He could be a voice, an image, a presence, or a character. He represents Fate. Destiny.
Prophecy. Authority. What Society tells us we should or will become. What we need to escape from but can’t seem to. The circumstances we’re given and must transcend. Ultimately his prophecy is wrong because it is incomplete. He cannot predict Deirdre’s free will.