Tuesday 23 July 2019

Wrestling the bucking bronco that is American masculinity

The Misfits, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin until tomorrow

Moments of genius: O'Donoghue and Moxley in The Patient Gloria. Photo by Luca Truffarelli.
Moments of genius: O'Donoghue and Moxley in The Patient Gloria. Photo by Luca Truffarelli.

The Corn Exchange presents a reimagining of Arthur Miller's screenplay for the 1961 movie The Misfits, and in so doing conducts an investigation into the contemporary crisis in American politics and society. The final film made by Marilyn Monroe, for whom the lead female was written, it marks the end of a golden era.

Director/adapter Annie Ryan has made her career here in Ireland, but her native North America often informs her work; here she is wrestling with the bucking bronco that is contemporary American masculinity. This is a journey into the past to illuminate the present.

Opening in a rural Texan saloon, newly divorced Roslyn finds herself amongst a group of prairie men. She is a honeypot and all the men fall in love with her. Monroe's iconic presence seems to lurk in the lines but Aoibhínn McGinnity does her own distinctive thing nonetheless. There is Guido, the air-force veteran (Patrick Ryan), who conquers his own nervousness to display his sweetness. Then there is Gay, portrayed with effective alpha swagger by Aidan Kelly. And finally there is Perce (Emmet Byrne), who is both drunk and punch-drunk, but manages to contain the essence of a charming pretty-boy that girls will fall for. They drink whiskey, they race at rodeo, they hunt mustang. The second woman on the stage, the barmaid Isabelle, sweetly played by Úna Kavanagh, is a sort of invisible woman: good craic, but essentially unseen by the men.

Stage-plays migrate into movies frequently, often with great success; the traffic is lighter in the other direction.

Some of the technical challenges are here very well met by movement director Justine Cooper; the lassoing of the mustang is effective, complete with the character of Isabelle embodying the struggling horse. Less successful is the marriage of rodeo-riding with interpretative dance. One character uses a mobile phone, which feels very out of place.

Zia Bergin-Holly's set is dominated by a scrubbed saloon counter, which later collapses to create open country. A corrugated iron backdrop starts to shimmer like the sky. A haunting American flag emerges in a ghostly image on the floor once the dirt has been scrubbed off. Music and audio design by Alma Kelliher has echoes of Ennio Morricone, including neat sound affects signalling the outdoors each time the saloon door is opened.

All five performances are first-rate, each actor taking plenty of risks. This is a thoroughly enjoyable dramatic probe into what's biting the American male; it ends on a profound and optimistic note.

Brilliant ingredients that just don't mix

The Patient Gloria Peacock Theatre, Dublin Until tonight

Gina Moxley's show is a post-dramatic feminist mash-up of found material, stand-up comedy, rock gig and drama. The primary shape of the show is derived from a 1960s film project, The Gloria Films, made as a teaching tool to demonstrate three different (and equally dodgy) approaches to psychotherapy. The client in the films was a 30-year-old divorcee, here portrayed by Liv O'Donoghue.

Moxley plays the three male psychologists, for each inventing a different funny phallus in order to play the men convincingly. Along the way she delivers some wise-cracking stand-up comedy about her life.

Director John McIlduff hits some moments of true hilarity and brilliance, including when a therapist disappears up Gloria's pink dress. There are moments of wisdom, in a section where Moxley muses on how society has changed, to a group of girls representing young women of Ireland.

There is zany rock music from Zoe Ní Riordáin and her electric guitar. This experimental extravaganza is stuffed with sheer theatrical originality and many elements are unforgettable.

But finally, the lack of compelling dramatic through-line hinders the enjoyment. You come away with a sense that you have witnessed some genius ingredients, but they have failed to cohere into a satisfactory whole.

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