Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin
until March 4
Emerging writer Callum Maxwell has created a neat two-hander that plays well in this informal café space and delivers some sharp observations on the experience of being adopted.
Premiered in the Dublin Fringe Festival last autumn and generating good word-of-mouth, this Ragged Ruin production returns for a lunchtime run.
There is an opening swipe at the cruelty of church and state that cajoled women into giving up their babies, but the writer is much more interested in the personal than the sociological. The play explores how the experience feels, rather than looking at social wrongs.
Much of it is written in verse, a form that gives the quickfire storytelling an elegant edge. We meet 19-year-old Michael who has been raised by his mother in Meath, and we meet 31-year-old Matthew who was adopted and raised in Monaghan.
Matthew became curious about his birth family, discovered he had a half-brother, and sought to meet him. The play is the story of how this meeting went, and the subsequent stuttering development of a relationship.
For Matthew, the sense of being rejected by his birth mother has deeply affected him, though he lives a functional life with an office job in Dublin and plays guitar in a band. Ruairí Lenaghan gives this character a casual air but adds a convincing layer of pain. Maxwell himself plays the younger man, bringing an affecting skittishness to proceedings. The action hinges on an impulsive lie Michael tells, and Maxwell’s sweet delivery of this deftly expresses the impetuous selfishness of the young.
Kathy Ann Murphy’s set design incorporates a stained-glass window, an efficient gesture at the story’s origin in a mother and baby home. Lee Coffey directs with panache, neatly injecting bits of stylish business to iron out the joins between the poetic narration and the dialogue.
The play charts the development of the relationship between the two young men; all the time the figure of their shared mother looms large in the background. But there is a father-shaped hole in the story — neither brother expresses much interest in their paternity — which makes the play feel strangely unfinished, a picture only half-painted. That aside, Maxwell’s writing is impressive in its subtlety, the ideas are packaged in a stylish mode, and the glimpse into this unusual relationship is moving and illuminating.