Dublin Theatre Festival: Review - The Talk of The Town
Project Arts Centre
"She was never one of us, she was one of her." Irish writer Maeve Brennan was certainly never going to get lost in a crowd, though history was in danger of forgetting her until this new play by Emma O'Donoghue arrived to celebrate her writing, her spirit.
This co-production by Hatch Theatre Company, Landmark Productions and Dublin Theatre Festival focuses on the decade when 30-something Brennan was living in New York, established as a fashion writer for Harper's Bazaar but determined to break into the sanctified world of The New Yorker.
The New Yorker of the 1950s was clearly more used to their women being simpering secretaries and, with her dry laconic wit, steely mettle and fondness for Irish cursing, Brennan soon punctured that and she was given both a staff job and the admiration of her male colleagues.
There is much to admire. Catherine Walker is luminous in the central role, fully inhabiting Brennan to her core. And Lorcan Cranitch is also wonderfully understated as William Shawn, her most loyal editor, patron, believer. The evocative jazzy score by Philip Stewart sets the scene and Peter O'Brien's costumes engender longing.
It starts with great gusto, cracking razor-sharp dialogue, the solid establishment of the exotic martini-filled world of The New Yorker. And then, coinciding somewhat with her losing her writing spark when she marries, this plateaus before flatlining.
Structurally, it feels like a first play. The scenes are often too short, and it flounders in search of narrative arc. The set is so littered with tables and chairs that need to be constantly moved that it seems cluttered rather than elegant. And the rhythm that has been established is fully destroyed by the clumsily cobbled on flashbacks to a childhood that owes more to Peig's Connemara than 1900s Ranelagh. They add nothing, no new dimension to Brennan but rather confusion. She was not an only child as they seem to imply, she was not the daughter of a quiet retiring man; her father was in fact a revolutionary in the Easter Rising.
And Donoghue's determination to end on an up-note when Brennan was in fact truly sinking at that time in her career and her life, makes the whole thing seem oddly superficial.