Entertainment Books

Monday 18 February 2019

Intelligent tragedy of modern life

Theatre

ROLE REVERSAL: Don Wycherley and Jennifer O’Dea lack chemistry in David Horan’s ‘Faith’.
ROLE REVERSAL: Don Wycherley and Jennifer O’Dea lack chemistry in David Horan’s ‘Faith’.
Donal O'Kelly and Sorcha Fox in Fishamble's Little Thing, Big Thing, photo by Pat Redmond

Emer O'Kelly

Paul Meade is a male playwright who is not in the blame game. His new play Faith concerns post-Celtic Tiger angst, mainly in the male psyche. But the female is not ignored, and Meade is even-handed in his understanding of the problems from both perspectives. When women playwrights probe breakdown and personal trauma, there is seldom a dimension which tries to understand or even tolerate the other side of the gender coin: it becomes Man As Enemy.

But interestingly, for all his attempts at fairness, there is a sub-conscious howl in Meade's work. And the howl projects itself in a scenario from which the female emerges, almost in spite of the author, as an emotional terrorist. The scenario in Faith has perforce moved on from man as patriarch, since the central character Michael has lost his marketing job in the pharmaceutical industry and is suffering bouts of clinical depression.

But his wife Maeve trails an awareness onto stage of the time when she was resentful at being what she saw as subordinate in the relationship. Now, in charge of her husband's unstable emotional welfare as well as being the main financial provider for the household, she is equally resentful, picking on every sign of the vulnerability that she once longed for in him. Vulnerability has become a bone of contention, a contemptible weakness, an open wound which she probes mercilessly at every opportunity.

That the merciless probing is a self-protective mechanism makes it no easier for the victim, as summed up by Michael's new-found friend Chris, the man who has walked away from high-powered banking for a job as a night watchman, fed up with trying to balance a life that made him "a s**t father and a s**t employee".

It is usually women who complain of the difficulties of the balancing act; Meade's play highlights the additional dilemma for the male: he is despised for failure, where a woman receives sympathy for at least trying to live up to contemporary expectations.

Faith is a highly intelligent tragedy of modern life, at times too portentous with heavy-handed imagery, but absorbing because of its apparently unconscious dimension. Good performances too, from Don Wycherley as Michael, and Michael Glenn Murphy as Chris, with Jennifer O'Dea as Maeve. There is a problem, however, with the chemistry between O'Dea and Wycherley: there's none, and the portrayals make one feel that there never was any in this marriage. Direction is by David Horan in a sharply contemporary set by Maree Kearns.

Faith is a co-production between Guna Nua and the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, and will tour to the end of the month, visiting Letterkenny, Mullingar, the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire, Riverbank in Newbridge, Axis Ballymun, Roscommon, Drogheda and the Mermaid in Bray.

*****

Donal O'Kelly's latest agitprop play, Little Thing Big Thing, is effectively a crime caper piece ... . but one with a purpose other than to amuse. The central thesis of O'Kelly's play is that the oil industry is deadly, not because it causes atmospheric pollution, but because it is corrupt and corrupting and prepared to commit murder.

He puts a missionary nun just returned from Nigeria into an empty west of Ireland convent where she meets an utterly inept crook, just recently released from Mountjoy after serving 10 years for possession of industrial quantities of cannabis.But he was merely the fall guy for the real criminals, and now he has been sent to the empty convent to steal a valuable statue of the Madonna in order to pay off yet another criminal debt.

The nun is the mule for a roll of film to be delivered to a Nigerian refugee in Dublin; it will prevent the refugee from being deported and it will also prove murderous criminality at the heart of an oil company.

Nun and ex-con set out for Dublin. They meet various authority figures as well as low-lifes. All the low-lifes are decent skins. All the authority figures are scumbags. And nearly all the decent skins end up dead, splattered all over the Dublin streets, with the authorities winking evilly at what they know is going on, while the "meeja" fall for lies that are blatantly obvious to every decent being except journalists.

Put like that, it's not very effective as anti-oil industry propaganda; a few shades of grey would make it more dramatically credible. But, as a caper, it's entertaining enough if not totally engaging. O'Kelly and Sorcha Fox play the two central characters, as well as the 17 other characters (some of whom don't actually seem necessary to the plot) and, as a result, it does all get a bit confusing at times. But both are good actors, and they are held together well by Jim Culleton's direction.

Little Thing Big Thing is a Fishamble production, and it tours countrywide until April 25.

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