Wednesday 26 June 2019

Fatal flood and an ocean of greed

They Float Up

Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin

Susannah de Wrixon and Kwaku Fortune in 'They Float Up'
Susannah de Wrixon and Kwaku Fortune in 'They Float Up'

Emer O'Kelly

You're well into They Float Up before you understand the sickening meaning of the title of Jacquelyn Reingold's play set in New Orleans in 2010. It starts quirkily and harmlessly "naughty" with a middle-aged woman gamely trying to pick up a much-younger man in a bar. She's white and from New York; he's black and originally from New Orleans; but he's been away. He's not being encouraging, but is startled out of his dour lack of communication when she asks him if he'd pay $10 to see her tits.

Apparently, when she lost her New York job (with a generous pay-off from the boss with whom she'd been sleeping), she decided to try her luck as a pole dancer down south. She'd been told five years ago that a particular bar was hiring. And now the bar owner doesn't seem too keen to take her on.

OK, so she's old, she says. Disastrously, the young man Darnell agrees with her. So here she is (although it is admittedly difficult to accept the lovely Susannah de Wrixon as either lacking in immediate sex appeal or as nearly old enough to be Darnell's mother, as the text claims).

The woman Joan is full of pre-conceived notions: he's shabby, so she thinks: "You don't have money because you're a victim of discrimination."

Darnell is a victim, alright. But not because of his colour: the date is significant. In 2010 Barack Obama has been President for a year, but the bright new dawn has not happened. And New Orleans needs a dawn more than most places in the US.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina had almost wiped the city out (literally) with 1,800 fatalities in the devastation of the floods. That's why Darnell is homeless: the house he had lived in is no more. That's why he got out. But there's a deeper tragedy at the heart of this clever, compassionate, psychologically wise and wryly funny little play.

In times of horror and the breakdown of law, people sometimes get to play God against their will; others seize the opportunity to do so. The result is nearly always brutal and inhuman. And Darnell has discovered this. And terrible though the break-up of his family has been, there was worse to come with the international financial crash. That "ocean of greed" that consumed us, Reingold implies in writing that "comes dropping still", was worse than Katrina because of its seeming invisibility: but its effects have been a spreading miasma that reduced us all.

And even as Darnell explains to the now subdued Joan that bodies can't be buried in New Orleans anymore because "they float up", the two lost souls of the play have to decide: it's either a journey into nihilism, or it's making a new act of faith in ourselves.

They Float Up is an in-house lunchtime production at Bewley's Cafe Theatre in Dublin and it's performed with immaculate polish (I would even say "soul") by Susannah de Wrixon and Kwaku Fortune. They're directed with mood-perfect variety by Peter McDermott in a set by Emmet Scanlon, lit by Colm Maher.

*******

Details of this year's Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF), the 42nd, have been announced. And it's fair to say that the line-up assembled by artistic director Paul Fahy is as usual nothing short of dazzling.

In theatre alone, there are five world premieres and four Irish premieres, with Irish National Opera presenting a new opera, Least Like the Other: Searching for Rosemary Kennedy. And even if the Irish idolatry of the Kennedy family of Boston is at times more than tiresome, INO has so far not disappointed.

Druid will present Epiphany by Brian Watkins, directed by Garry Hynes, and featuring Bill Irwin and Druid stalwart Marie Mullen.

And Joseph O'Connor's novel Redemption Falls has been adapted for a co-production between Moonfish, the Abbey, and GIAF in association with the Town Hall Theatre. (Let us hope that the Abbey's recent undertaking that its pay rates - always better than those of other companies - will be paid where it is involved in group productions, will kick in.)

But there is a huge and impressive programme, including a revival of Corcadorca's The Same, featuring Eileen Walsh and Catherine Walsh. It's a riveting examination of psychosis, originally seen at the old Cork Gaol.

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