Wednesday, February 24, 1999

REVIEW:Playboy (Project, Dublin)

I made that bit up, admits Christine Molloy, one half of the performance duo Desperate Optimists, about her assertion that, just before he met that fatal ice-pick, Leon Trotsky had written the words "there must be another way".

It is a clear warning for the audience at Play-Boy, the company's tendentious evening of theatrical bricolage at the Project at the Mint, not to be too credulous. When it comes to history, you have to suspect your sources. But although Molloy and her partner, Joe Lawlor, are keen to offer such
warnings, the pair still retain high expectations of their audience.

Play-Boy brings together chunks of other people's texts, videotaped interviews, a little mariachi song and dance, some gunfire and a whole lot of fake blood in an effort to connect some ostensibly disparate facts and events of 20th century history.

But if the show involves outlining intriguing and perplexing coincidences, Desperate Optimists are not joining up the dots for anyone. There may be a few hints about the links between the testimony of the film director Elia Kazan at the McCarthy hearings and the riots that accompanied the original Abbey production of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, but the show still leaves plenty of room for an audience's mental participation.

Some things do become clear as the music plays and gunshots ring out. Violence is one of the key elements that unite the company's chosen texts, whether it be in Molloy's account of the murder of Trotsky, the video witnesses' discussions or the frequent ear-rattling reports of blanks fired on stage. A link also appears to be made between violence, colonialism and isolation. But somehow it is only when the urge to join all the dots begins to wane that the facts seem to speak freely. This is not an approach that a company can take on lightly, all the less so if the intention is to create something more than a multimedia seminar in cultural studies.

But the company's challenge is to make their discussions hold up in front of an audience with relatively straightforward expectations; that is to say, they have to make an evening of talking about theatre into an evening of theatre.

In Play-Boy the company succeed in creating a bristlingly engaging evening of performance. The show does not ignore the straightforward pleasures of storytelling and pretending, but neither does it allow for any lapses of concentration, nor promise easy rewards. A better definition of vital theatre would be hard to find.

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