Monday 25 September 2017

Tennessee Williams bill soars vibrantly

A Tennessee Williams double bill offers impressive talent, says Emer O'Kelly

Talk to Me Like the Rain

Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Powerscourt

Say Nothin’ to No One

Theatre Upstairs, Eden Quay, Dublin

Maria Guiver and Daniel Monaghan in Talk To Me Like The Rain at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre @ Powerscourt. Photo: Tomasz Olejnik
Maria Guiver and Daniel Monaghan in Talk To Me Like The Rain at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre @ Powerscourt. Photo: Tomasz Olejnik
Ericka Roe and Thommas Kane Byrne in Say Nothin To No One at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's on Eden Quay, Dublin. Photo: Babs Daly

Tennessee Williams was a master of desperation; at his best he turned it into a votive offering, the flame flickering through shades of recognition, from the stupidity of hope through to the acceptance of annihilation. And both extremes feature in the juxtaposition of This Property Is Condemned and Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen when presented as a double bill.

The first dates from 1946, and offers the eerie sight of innocence already destroyed, as 13-year-old Willie longs to emulate her sister, dead from venereal disease contracted as a prostitute in the family "boarding house". It is long condemned, but Willie manages to live there in hiding, scavenging along the railway lines of the neighbourhood, and tantalising 16-year-old Tom, who has heard from a school friend that she is "available".

Now Willie's hope, as she parades in the dead Alva's tawdry finery, is that her erstwhile "suitor" will learn from Tom that she has a myriad of "gentlemen friends" who have moved on from Alva to her.

In the meantime, she wistfully notes that Alva's death wasn't like it is in the movies: there were no violins and flowers, and Alva's gentlemen friends had disappeared.

The hopelessly sly and knowing defiance is stomach-churning, and while Maria Guiver and Daniel Monaghan, both leggy and rather beautiful adults, aren't physically convincing, their emotional impact in the production at Bewley's Cafe Theatre in Dublin packs a devastating punch.

And it is even surpassed by their performances in Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen (from 1953) in which a drunk wakes up in a poverty-stricken bedroom, with only a vague recollection of how he got home.

Man's last memory is of waking in a flophouse, naked in a bath of ice cubes. Back home, his Woman has been existing for days on instant coffee, moving on to water when that ran out. She welcomes the privation, because hope is dead: her longing is for emptiness, years of living detached from reality until it is all over and she sinks beneath whatever waves engulf her. The two have nothing to give each other but the sound of the rain…

The two are beautifully directed by Bairbre Ni Chaoimh, and if it is a depressing offering for summer lunchtime, the power of the two small masterpieces offered with such talent is pure joy.

There is an impressively adaptable set design by Seamus O'Rourke, with an evocative backdrop painted by Sandra Butler, with splendid lighting by Colm Maher and music by Jack Cawley.

*******

Yes, but why? Why would a gangland grandmother with access to the proceeds of a successful drug business, need to have her granddaughter's dress for First Communion nicked rather than bought?

And why would she pay over half the cost of the dress to the shoplifter commissioned to provide it, if he could be intimidated into stealing it in the first place? And anyway, is five grand the going rate for a dress for a six-year-old, even in a flash department store?

And why… and why… and why?

Say Nothin' to No One sets out to be one of those searing excursions into the horror of deprived-suburb living in Dublin, culminating (inevitably) in graphic and ghastly tragedy. Except that it's overly contrived, involving a bottle of sulphuric acid handily to hand when...well, you can probably guess its use.

Then there's the complicated unravelling of paternity across the genders, an equally complicated explication of maternity to allow a young gay shoplifter to revere the granny who reared him, while being equally devoted to a former schoolfriend who apparently terrorises the entire neighbourhood through being unloved by her own mother. (The mother prefers her older sister, you see, so the young one beats up her sister, breaking her nose in the process. And so on...)

Writing gritty and gruesome is of course fashionable. It's also legitimate as a theatrical form. But it requires credibility at its base, and Thommas Kane Byrne's piece is, quite frankly, not credible. As a rollercoaster ride through late-teen angst and rebellion it's a non-runner, and the motif of it all happening due to the two young tearaways getting out of their depth over a wide-eyed desire to go to London (in the age of Ryanair?) also doesn't wash.

Sadly, the final note is that the author (who plays Cian) and Ericka Roe (who plays Charleigh) should both accept the fact that shouting your head off and throwing yourself around doesn't amount to acting.

Directed by Amilia Stewart, this Breadline Collective production is at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's on Eden Quay in Dublin.

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