Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Walworth Farce

A challenging THE WALWORTH FARCE at Dobama

Humans are storytellers. We use stories to pass information about cultures, persons and families. We use stories to create our reality. The Great Lie Theory purports that if we tell a story over and over we can convince ourselves that our fantasies are our realities. THE WALWORTH FARCE, now in production at Dobama Theatre, is a showcase for the power of stories as a protective and manipulative tool.

Enda Walsh is a writer from the contemporary Irish theatre school. He emphasizes characters and situations to showcase the “new” Ireland. He uses words, in story form, to allow characters to articulate their lives.

Don't go to see The WALWORTH FARCE expecting a hysterically funny play full of prat falls, hidden identities and funny incidents. Yes, there is some cross-dressing and exaggerated humor, but this is more a modern tragedy than a farce. Dinny, the father, is more Willy Loman of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, than Buster Keaton. He is a misguided soul trying desperately to create a rewrite of his frustrating story.

The play concerns a play within a play in which three men perform a skit with a complicated plot that involves a dead mother, an inheritance, a brain surgeon and his wife, a younger brother, two sons and money. Reality mixes freely with the fantasy. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which. And, that's the challenge for the audience and the power of the writing.

A New York review stated, “For the first few minutes of this ripping, warped family portrait, you're apt to feel that you've walked in on a Hibernian Three Stooges routine.” You need to let the whole process sink in. It may not hit you until the second act of how powerful the story is.

Questions abound as the show evolves. Why the wigs, the dresses, the bellowing, the rage over the chicken being replaced by a sausage, the mock coffins, the Monopoly money? Why are the boys confined to their environment on the 12th floor of an elevatorless London building on Walworth Avenue? At the end, in the midst of the horror, the whole bloody thing makes sense.

One thing is for sure, “if there were a prize for creating the most dysfunctional family ever presented on stage Enda Walsh would undoubtedly win it.”

The Dobama production, under the direction of Mark Moritz, is well paced and finely acted. There are questions however, as to whether the cross dressing, absurdist early actions should have been broader, so that when reality sets in there would have been a clear separation of the play within a play and the play itself. Though the overall effect of the acting is excellent, there is also questions of whether texturing the performance of Bob Goddard (Dinny, the father), so that he didn't start out yelling, might eliminate any doubt of his being maniacally driven, rather than having mood swings of reality versus self-imposed fiction. Is Blake (the younger brother) dull-witted or just scared of life? Daniel McElhaney's character development though dynamic, never clearly lets us know.

On the other hand, Andrew Cruise, who has quickly proven that he is one of the finest actors in the area, was nothing short of brilliant as Sean, the only family member with any semblance of reality. The bodily ticks, stuttering speech, and panicked glances, all are right on target. This is an exceptional performance, as is that of Carly Germany, as the grocery clerk who gets sucked into the gory tale. Her terror is deep in her body, not on the surface. She totally inhabits the character.

The entire cast is consistent in their Irish accents.

Ron Newell's set develops the appropriate visual elements.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE WALWORTH FARCE is not an easy sit, but it is worth the effort if you are interested in storytelling, culture, and good acting.