Madam Lynch

Photo credit: Russ Rowland

Eliza Lynch, a woman with a colorful history, is the heroine of Madam Lynch, a new play at the New Ohio Theater in New York. Lynch was the mistress of the Paraguayan governor in the 1800s, and was blamed for spurring on the bloody Paraguayan War. She was known for throwing elaborate parties and introducing European customs to Parauguay.

Though I appreciate that Madam Lynch introduced me to learn more about Paraguayan history, the play itself felt overly abstract. There were some darkly funny moments, as when the many people who perished in the Paraguayan War are presented in a faux fashion show. However, at other points I felt unsure why things were happening or what I was supposed to think. At one point, a character mentions that there were 650 birds native to Paraguay. They proceed to name every single species in a somber tone, while Madam Lynch repeated their names in sign language. Several people in the audience laughed, but I wasn’t sure the moment was supposed to be a funny one.

The play wildly shifts in tone and feeling from moment to moment, perhaps mimicking the supposed madness of Madam Lynch. Some moments seem obviously surreal, as when Lynch takes in a “wild” girl who possesses a tail, and tames her as a servant. Much of the real Madam Lynch’s life is shrouded in rumor and myth. I left the play curious to learn more about Lynch, but somewhat confused by what was really taken from history, and what the playwrights (Normandy Sherwood and Craig Flanagin) had made up. Were the wild people in the forest an allegory for something that had actually happened, or just an imagined scene?

The play fetaures a performance by Ballet Panambí Vera, a Paraguayan folk group who were a treat to see, though perhaps underused. The onstage band directed by Rachel Swaner complemented the atmosphere of the play.

Madam Lynch plays at the New Ohio Theater (154 Christopher St  in New York) now through June 15. Tickets are available online.