Saturday 25 February 2017

Red O'Brien and the way he might look at you

THEATRE

EMER O'KELLY

TWO FINGERS: John O'Dowd (Red) and Cora Fenton (Mary) in Mark O’Halloran’s double bill
TWO FINGERS: John O'Dowd (Red) and Cora Fenton (Mary) in Mark O’Halloran’s double bill

RED O'Brien has been suffering from aphemia (the loss of the power of articulate speech), aphasia (the loss of ability to understand or express speech), and alexia (inability to read), but he's not too sure that he wants to recover. The Head of Red O'Brien, at Bewley's Cafe Theatre in Dublin, is Mark O'Halloran's second play and dates from as far back as 2001 -- and it's as much of a treat as it was first time around.

Red is married to Mary Motorhead, the two locked in an alcohol-fuelled, violence-driven partnership of mutual antagonism, the result of which has seen Red ending up in hospital, the carving knife his wife has driven into his head the cause of his brain-storms.

He has spent years telling her the story of his favourite film (The Hunt for Red October) frame by frame each evening in order to madden her as she retreats into books (a deliberate attempt to offend him, he believes). The ultimate insult is when she begins to read Ulysses, as they "push (them)selves into frenzies of loving and loathing".

But his months of injury-induced silence have taught Red that "words always fall short, [they] just rob the world's music" because of their inadequacy. But he still hopes that when Mary returns to him, as he believes she will, they will be able to come to terms with each other.

The Head of Red O'Brien (it has a companion piece, Mary Motorhead, which is scheduled to follow at Bewley's Cafe Theatre in Dublin) is a disturbing, fascinating piece of theatre, given a terrific production by Truewest Theatre, and directed by Rae Penelope Visser with John O'Dowd more than impressive in the title role.

*******

When something swings from vacuous to pretentious without any apparent middle ground, it hasn't got much going for it -- and unfortunately that's the case with Jody O'Neill's Celebrity, an in-house production at Project in Dublin.

I suspect it's meant to be a condemnation of the modern obsession with celebrity culture, but it's so badly constructed it's hard to know. Even as far as it goes, it's fuzzily faint-hearted, endorsing the suspicion that those who complain loudest about the celebrity cult would sell their souls at the drop of a Tweet to join it.

A man and woman begin by talking about and acting out a quiz in Celebrity magazine about how a woman can make a man fall in love with her in less than an hour. And you've guessed it, it's all to do with artifice and insincerity.

Then they skip on to internet "relationships" and the empty manipulation of these in order to create a non-personality which will capture a partner. They do this in the third person for some unknown reason.

Then they go to an invented relationship and invented parenthood; the baby is a pink table-lamp with a cell phone clipped to it . Then they go on to "explore" the breakdown of the marriage with the creation of "virtual space" in the household. (They stay at home, but she virtually goes to Pilates, while he virtually goes to the pub.)

Then for no apparent reason it all becomes a celebrity fantasy, and they have screaming arguments as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and they go on to "Facebook" an invented kidnap of their non-existent baby. Then they have a row as Posh and Becks, then Jordan and Peter what's-his-name.

In between, they dance to old Sinatra numbers.

The author and Matthew Ralli play the two characters Margaret Jane Grey and Simon White-- names which may be supposed to mean something but meant nothing to me other than that Jane Grey was the unfortunate young woman who was beheaded after a nine-day marriage to Edward VI of England, short-lived son of Henry VIII. There may have been a connection; on the other hand, there may not, because there's damn-all connection in anything in this piece of fatuous piffle. Direction is by Carl Kennedy.

Sunday Independent

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