October 4, 2019
Maureen Keiller takes on the role of Sherri at SpeakEasy
By R. J. Donovan
Special to the BIR
Boston has been splashed across international headlines this year thanks to the “Varsity Blues” college admissions bribery scandal being played out in our waterfront courtrooms. Clearly, there should be no separate system of qualifications for the wealthy and privileged. Yet are other yardsticks being used, perhaps not immediately as marked?
Which brings us to “Admissions,” presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company from Oct. 25 through Nov. 30.
Written by the provocative playwright Joshua Harmon (“Significant Other” and “Bad Jews”), this timely, dark comedy tells of Sherri Rosen-Mason, a liberal admissions officer working for a small prep school in New Hampshire. She has spent 15 years diligently working to diversify the student body, and is enormously proud of her mission.
But then her son is denied a place at an Ivy League school in favor of his best friend, whose grades are not quite as stellar. And whose mother is Sherri’s best friend. And who just happens to be mixed-race.
Maureen Keiller takes on the role of Sherri at SpeakEasy. A much-loved talent on the Boston stage, she includes “The Little Dog Laughed,” “Between Riverside and Crazy,” “Nine,” and “The Women” among her credits. She also holds an Elliot Norton Award as Outstanding Actress plus three IRNE Awards as Best Supporting Actress.
In August, she spent time in Ireland visiting family, many of whom are fairly well known. Her late father was raised on a farm in Bellharbour, Co. Clare. Her uncle, Chris Droney, is a legendary, nine times Senior All-Ireland Concertina Champion as well as an award-wining ambassador for the arts in Clare.
Her cousins are the Garrihy sisters – Aoibhín, Ailbhe, and Doireann. Aside from being prominent social media influencers in Ireland, all have been involved in the arts. Among other things, Aoibhín came in second on the Irish version of “Dancing With The Stars” and Dioreann is hosting a morning breakfast show on RTE 2fm.
Maureen’s father came to the States in the mid-50s. “He grew up in a family of five boys,” she said in a recent interview, “and of the five, four of them emigrated to the Hartford area. My uncle Chris stayed. He took care of the farm.”
She remembers that there was “an Irish music station that we listened to every Sunday morning. My father was a member of the Irish American Home in Glastonbury as were all of his brothers.
When she visited Ireland, she hadn’t intended to use a car. “I was little nervous about driving on the other side of the road. Not the wrong side of the road, the other side of the road,” she said laughing. Her cousin Decklan wound up driving Maureen, her sister, and niece around.
“Driving up the driveway to the farm, it was so emotional. To be back as an adult and really appreciate the absolute beauty of where my father grew up. It was so moving to me. So moving.”
Maureen grew up in Enfield, CT, and her first stage role was playing a squirrel in the third grade. She enjoyed performing, participated in school shows, did some community theater and went on to study theater at the University of Connecticut. She later moved to New York, but a difficult audition experience left her feeling lost.
“I said, 'I don’t know what I’m doing here. What was I thinking?'”
She stayed in the city for four years, working at restaurants, until her sister suggested she move to Boston.“I was like, 'Oh please! I’ll die of boredom,'” she said laughing. “And here I am, over 30 years later. I fell in love with it immediately.”
She studied hairdressing and took a position at a John Dellaria Salon but eventually tiptoed back into acting at the suggestion of a therapist who worked with several artists. “You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Take a class,” he told her.
“So I took a class,” she said. And I fell in love, really hard. This is what I love. This is what I want to do.” She lovingly credits her late husband Patrick with tremendous encouragement. He passed away just over a year ago following a long illness.
“I married a wonderful man,” she said. “He knew that I didn’t like doing hair. He said, 'Look, if you really want to pursue this, I am here to support anything you want to do.' So I am lucky that I had not only the emotional support, but also, my husband was able to take care of any bills we had while I started to try and get myself a name . . . It would have been our 20th anniversary this year. It’s extremely hard. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. He was my biggest fan. He saw everything I did.”
And during what turned out to be an overwhelming loss, her tight knit Boston theater colleagues drew her close.
“I can’t say strongly enough how incredible this community has been with me through this whole thing," she said. "Through my husband's illness. And through his passing. I always knew that the Boston theater community was really special, but when you go through something that is so brutal, and to know that you are completely in the arms of people who love you and get you . . . it’s truly humbling. Incredible.”
And now she’s preparing to open another show at SpeakEasy. “Speaking of having your back, they take such good care of their artists," she said. "They are so respectful and really loving, and they do incredible work.” Last month she hosted the company's annual fundraising gala.
In the current cultural climate, Maureen suspects audiences will have a multitude of personal issues to contend with in “Admissions.” She sees it as “a very funny play, but in kind of a cringey way. You’re laughing, but you’re like, 'Oooohhh, should I be laughing at this?' It’s really dark, but so, so funny. And I think it will really make people think about their own thoughts on how liberal they think they are. As opposed to, if they’re denied something, [do those same principles] still apply.”
R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Admissions,” Oct. 25–Nov. 30, Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, Boston. Info: 617-933-8600 or speakeasystage.com.