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Wednesday 1 October 2014

HUGELY cynical and hilarious

Emer O'Kelly

Published 22/07/2013 | 05:00

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Best Man is a hugely ironic title for Carmel Winters' new play, since there is no best anyone in it, and the male character is most assuredly not a "member of the wedding" in any sense of that term.

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The play, an Everyman and Project co-production, has already played the Cork Midsummer Festival, and is now at Project in Dublin. It is one of the most stylish productions I've seen in quite a while, with a composite panel-set by Liam Doona, differentiated between scenes by quite stunning videos of children's artwork by Arnim Friess as a prologue to each scene.

But that is not all Best Man has going for it. The producers have assembled a team that could hardly be bettered, with two of our strongest actors, Derbhle Crotty and Peter Gowen, as the married couple mired in sexual dysfunction, and Kate Stanley Brennan as the dea ex machina, whose exquisite form merely enhances her formidable talent. Add Michael Barker-Caven as director, and you can hardly go wrong.

And Winters does not go wrong as she paints a superbly malicious portrait of modern cool: Kay, the go-getting estate agent who to her children is merely a hand waving from the car as she leaves in the morning, to return, usually bottle in hand, after they are well abed; and husband Alan, who has given up his medical career to write a glacially slowly gestating novel, while writing wedding speeches for pin-money.

Enter Bolivian nanny Marta, on a journey of revenge against her long-lost father, a retired Irish ambassador sinking into mental and physical decline, and a man who knew how to exploit diplomatic status to the full in his heyday. And the inevitable happens: upside down, though. It's Kay and Marta who are discovered in flagrante leading to a court battle over the children. And, of course, as is frequently the case in such situations, the children's welfare comes well below their parents' desire for spiteful revenge on each other. It's Marta who keeps her feet, and her heart, on the ground.

The play is hugely cynical, extremely funny, overwhelmingly chic, and utterly soulless, which is just possibly a fair description of would-be fashionable Irish society. It was originally an Abbey Theatre commission, and to my mind is far superior to Winters' B for Baby which reached the stage in the Peacock (commissioned by Theatre Lovett.).

Bryan Murray, Una Crawford-O'Brien and Roisin O'Neill complete the cast: all three are excellent.

***

Amy de Bhrun seems to be trying to do something that she thinks is important: present suicide as a sensible option when life becomes unbearable to one degree or another. She presents the theory in Till Death We Part, written and played by herself for db Productions, at Lanigan's Theatre Upstairs on Eden Quay in Dublin. The problem lies with the three characters being "portrayed". In an attempt to give them life and "difference", de Bhrun gives each an elaborate and dramatically unwieldy background that never manages to be convincing.

A young woman in her 20s has terminal cancer. Reared in Cork by her grandparents after being abandoned by her mother and stepfather, who are the hosts of an exploitative religious TV channel in the US, she has a lovely husband, but decides that chemotherapy is poisoning her body, so abandons it ... with seemingly cheery alacrity.

The second character is an older successful lesbian travel writer who spends her entire life yearning for her best friend from schooldays whom she believes to be also gay, but who has "settled" for marriage. When she develops early-onset Alzheimer's, she signs up with Dignitas, the Swiss-based suicide help organisation, and is supported through the procedure by her old friend, taking pleasure in the fact that the friend had a row with her husband over it.

The third character is a miserably unhappy schoolgirl wannabe rap singer, who believes herself to be a freak, suspecting she is a man trapped in a female body, and who fails miserably in a talent contest in which her pretty classmate triumphs. Believing herself to be hateful, she takes what seems to be the obvious way out.

All of this is just too complicated to work. And switching back and forth between the characters merely by means of a shoe change for each new "revelation" just makes the heart sink at the prospect of more repetitive and not very convincing introspection.

A serious subject, yes. But a messy and unfocused piece of writing that emerges more like a series of stage audition solos. Helena Browne directs.

Irish Independent

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