Deirdre, Warrior Princess | Theater | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
Deirdre, Warrior Princess
Maura Ellyn performs in “Deirdre” on February 2 and 3 at Marbletown Multi-Arts. (Image provided)
Looking for an all-purpose cultural touchstone in these despairing days? Introducing Deirdre, the heroine of a Celtic saga dating back to the first century. This durable take offers an allegory for myriad current social ills, from unbridled patriarchy to global warming, according to its most recent interpreter. “She risked everything to live her own life,” said Maura Ellyn, a Stone Ridge-based singer-composer who became fascinated decades ago by this tale of a beautiful, determined woman who defies a cruel king to win true love. For the past four years, Ellyn—a disciple of mythology master Joseph Campbell—has worked to define the tale of “Deirdre.”

The result is a chamber music piece, which will debut February 9 at Marbletown Multi-Arts (MaMA). Ellyn will sing her score, complemented by local musicians with international credits: flutist Steve Gorn, guitarist Peter Einhorn, and bassist John Lindberg. Ellyn has performed at the Herodes Atticus, the ancient theater at the foot of the Parthenon, and the World Trade Plaza, as well as on and off Broadway. Her jazz CD, Chiaroscuro, features luminaries Marc Copland, Gary Peacock, Billy Hart, and Cyro Baptiste.

An oral tale, “Deirdre” was first documented circa 8 CE by Irish monks, who brought their ascetic taint to the tale, Ellyn explains. The resulting version depicts the protagonist as a renegade rather than a heroine. Despite the “Christian thing happening, a lot of the rawness of the culture comes through,” Ellyn says. Subsequent eras have used the malleable character as a pawn for their own cultural agendas. Victorian scribes, steeped in melancholy and loving it, depicted Deirdre as a lachrymose lass. William Butler Yeats and 20th century Irish writer James Stephens also took turns at defining Deirdre. But men, being men…

“Deirdre was seen as a Helen of Troy figure,” Ellyn says, a simplistic depiction. “She was not a femme fatale or Victorian victim.” Historically, Celtic women were as fearsome as their menfolk, who were renowned for their ferocity as warriors. Celtic culture was pagan-based and honored goddesses. “Women had incredible rights back then; they could split from a mate and still have equity.”

After sifting through as many as 20 versions, Ellyn forged her own hybrid. Its pro-feminist, pro-ecology storyline (the character is happiest when living in the woods), Ellyn insists, sprang from the values of the Celtic culture. The take-home lesson of Ellyn’s “Deirdre” is that when society “tips into patriarchy, it gives birth to more materialism and violence.”

After the MaMA concert, Maura Ellyn pledges to craft a fully staged theatrical production to amplify her score. Despite an embattled past based on centuries of misogyny, "Deirdre" offers numerous lessons for the next generation.

“'Deirdre’ is not some feminist tract, really,” Ellyn says. “It’s just about looking for balance. This is not all men’s fault by any means.”

“Deirdre,” starring Maura Ellyn, will be performed at Marbletown Multi-Arts (MaMA) in Stone Ridge on February 9 and 10 at 8pm. (845) 687-8890;

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