Marcus Conway is alone in his home in Louisburgh, Co Mayo. It is November 2, All Souls' Day. His wife has gone to work and his adult children are away. But something doesn't quite ring true. The house feels peculiar; in Zia Bergin-Holly's abstract design it isn't quite how he describes it. It looks like a representation of an engineer's brain, like the bones of a house. Its bare timber frame and industrial cellophane walls reflect Bergin-Holly's subtle and shifting lighting plot.
Michael West adapts Mike McCormack's award-winning novel carving a distinct dramatic scaffold, like a good monologue engineer, from the episodic source material. But McCormack's underlying sturdy philosophical content is paramount and the outcome verges on the sublime. There is not a better representation of the ordinary pains and pleasures of a married man who rears children. Marcus is proud of his engineering job, of his breadwinning. He glories in his child's birth certificate, in its simple documentary power of citizenship. He relishes looking after his wife when she is struck by cryptosporidiosis following contamination of the local water supply. His wedding ring is especially shiny. He fights off interference from corrupt politicians in his building projects. He is a good citizen.
This is a profound engagement with death, but also with life. Marcus's existence is given detailed exploration: his father's angry late-life paranoia, his once-wronged wife's deep hurt, his daughter who mounts an art exhibition made out of her own blood. He is repulsed, not by her bodily fluids, but by her sanctimoniousness. Stanley Townsend summons a profound ordinariness to embody this noble everyman. Lynne Parker directs this world premiere for Rough Magic and Kilkenny Arts Festival. Her touch is sure-handed and subtle, skilfully coating the profundities of the material with simplicity.
There is a creeping reveal in the play which I will not disclose, though it is indicated on the dust jacket of the novel. It is best to let the drama play out because events are finally so devastating in their ordinariness, in their anti-melodrama, they offer the pure theatrical experience of catharsis.
The novel, published in 2016, was hailed as abstract and experimental; it has no full stops and is written in a stream of consciousness as a single sentence. But this abstraction disappears on the stage where full stops are not important. The novel was highly successful, but this production, in its corporeal reality, may be even more effective. It's a sparkling reminder of the singular power of the living, breathing performer on stage.
Solar Bones Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny Until Aug 16
The Abbey's Dear Ireland, a Covid-inspired online project continues. In April it presented 50 short new monologue plays by 50 writers and performed by 50 actors, in an entertaining theatrical experiment.
This now is the audience's turn to intervene. It's a sort of staged "letters to the editor". They received 400 letters and picked 20 to be read by actors on the empty Abbey stage; the presentation lasts two hours. Damien Dempsey intersperses with heartfelt ballads.
The letters are all very worthy. There isn't a titter of wit, unusual if you consider the mordant humour and irony that comes easily to the average Irish voice. Hard to know if this is an editorial choice on behalf of creators Graham McLaren and Neil Murray, or if they really only got dreary letters. The most appealing was a sweet-hearted poetic piece about packing a suitcase with the things you love, written by Holly Lusted and read with a poignant delicacy by Florence Adebambo.
Every Irish social issue is touched upon: direct provision; Magdalene Laundries; challenges encountered by gay families; racism; immigrants feeling excluded. The lining up of these issues one by one, coupled with the downbeat tone, makes the whole piece feel like an exercise in virtue signalling. Good morality is not an excuse for dreary art.
Dear Ireland abbeytheatre.ie Until Jan 2021