John O'Donovan's new play is a portrait of the generation that was sacrificed to the economic crash. He writes with meticulous care and compassion about a group of thirty-somethings from Ennis who meet to remember their friend Liam who died at 17, possibly from suicide.
A landscape of Celtic Tiger economic development is evoked, with motorways cutting farms in two and boy racers enjoying the newly laid tarmacadam. Barry (Colin Campbell) Cusack (Conor Madden) and Pa (Rhys Dunlop) gather in an old shed, where they used to hang out as kids. They come to celebrate and remember, armed with a few slabs of beer and cider.
In a spectacular stage-management feat, dozens and dozens of cans are opened and drunk. Darts are played. Drugs are taken. The atmosphere of a lads' boozing party is expertly evoked.
O'Donovan relishes exploding the idea that men are not able to investigate their own inner lives; these boys know well how to talk. Cusack and his wife have just had a baby; fatherhood and marriage are explored as themes. But the men still hark loyally back to the adolescent friend group.
The play poses a number of difficult practical challenges, other than the copious cans. Each of the three actors takes over the telling of the dead boy's story, slipping into a monologue to do so. These monologues contain some very fine writing, but director Thomas Martin, while modulating the performances adroitly, hasn't found a coherent dramatic way to make this challenging device work. Having the other three play the dead Liam unsettles the tempo but yields little dramatically. The decision not to use a fourth actor is puzzling - the decision is in the script. The other major challenge is in the darts/drinking game, which is confusing. It's hard to believe the lads can still throw straight after all the booze.
Naomi Faughnan's cleverly shaped blue tarpaulin set is beautifully animated by Zia Bergin-Holly's dynamic lighting. A druggy expressionism takes over the aesthetic, allowing for great swoops of performance.
For all its awkwardness in shape, this is an important investigation into the effects of the Celtic Tiger/economic crash dynamic. The writing is full of delicacy, subtlety and seriousness; its small-town energy translates into a big-hearted portrait of a generation.
These men are trapped in the past, their development arrested by the death of their friend, a symbolic death that marks the expiration of Celtic Tiger optimism. They are conscious of their loss but haven't a clue what to do about it.
Howie the Rookie
Viking Theatre, Clontarf Until Feb 8
Glass Mask Theatre presents a revival of Mark O'Rowe's monologue play about fatalism and agency. This is Dublin 1990s suburbia, where puzzled young men seem incapable of getting on top of life. Violence just happens.
Howie happily goes looking for trouble; Rookie tries to avoid it. Stephen Jones plays Howie with command, catching nuances of the text in little eye flickers and gestures, conveying the haunted uncertainty of this tough guy. His story is absorbing.
Rex Ryan emphasises the vulnerability of Rookie, his sexual vanity the only weapon he has to fling against the world. These are sad young men, doing sad things, that end sadly.
O'Rowe's script has plenty of literary grace and some humour: a mix of street and poetry, innovative when first produced 20 years ago and highly influential since. The bawdy immaturity of the descriptions of women has a pitiable bravura.
Director Neil Flynn pumps up the emotional through-lines, never allowing the violence of the story to swamp its humanity. Neatly used lighting and subtle sound effects add to the elegance of the presentation. The actors make terrific audience connection in the intimate space of the Viking Theatre; two compelling performances of grit and grief.