Thursday, October 04, 2007

REVIEW: Long Day's Journey Into Night (The Gaiety, Dublin)

Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night is an epic of unrelenting misery, all but devoid of any but the dimmest light, stripped of any emotion that isn't so mixed that it is hard, really, to give it a name at all. And every shred of that pain and meanness, every degree of recrimination, is in place in Garry Hynes' latest stern Druid production.

A former Shakespearean actor-turned-skinflint hack, James Tyrone (James Cromwell) and his deliriously dysfunctional family are about to enter four of their darkest hours. Mother Mary (Marie Mullen) is back on the morphine. For a while there, things were looking good; she seemed to have kicked for real this time. But now she's sneaking off again for a shot.

It's Dad's fault say the boys-who-might-be-men, Jamie (Aidan Kelly) and Edmund (Michael Esper), for being so mean. It's your fault for being such wastrels, counters the old man. No, it's yours -- for being born at all, honks mom from deep within the chemical, literal and metaphorical fog.

But that, of course, is the heart of the problem here: the Tyrones are addicted to blame. They will blame themselves if really forced, but, in general, they'd far rather lay the grief at each other's door. And what a lot of grief there is. Over the hours, scraps of injustice, rationalisation, hurbis and savage hurt pile up, until there is a monumental bonfire of human suffering filling the stage.

Hynes' approach on all this is, remarkably, to play it down, to take the epic bitterness and make it, somehow, everyday. It is a tack that makes sense, since allowing this play the full tilt emotional meltdown could easily leave contemporary audiences feeling rather detached. The alternative, however, which seems to happen here, is that the performances can seem a little small for the characters, so that even though there nothing here is short on quality, it sill feels as though everyone is trying on a suit that is simply a size too big.

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Saturday, June 21, 2003

REVIEW: Crestfall (The Gate, Dublin)

It’s your business to duck if things get messy in Mark O’Rowe’s fierce dramas of underclass Irish life, because this author certainly won’t be watching out for the sensibilities of the squeamish element. O’Rowe cannot – constitutionally it seems – offer his audience anything but blood, sweat and whatever other bodily fluids happen to spill, seep, bubble and gush from his stories.

All the same, he might expect to sidestep characterisation as a macho writer in this drama told via monologues by three women, with no male help. The monologues wind around each other much in the manner of the monologues in O’Rowe’s calling card show, Howie The Rookie. A tiny detail in one becomes a focal point in the next, until the story of one bloody day in the town of Crestfall crawls into view from just outside our peripheral vision.

The sub-bass rumbles a warning and the lights come up on Francis O’Connor’s strange, splattered mirror-box of a stage to reveal Olive (Aisling O’Sullivan) who begins to speak in a strange, heavily accented patter, unfurling a life of cold sex and brutality.

Soon afterwards, she is replaced by Alison (Marie Mullen) who witnesses many of the same events, though with a little more distance, before giving up the stage to the tale of Tilly (Eileen Walsh) who has had a bad day, even by the standards of a penniless, heroin-addicted prostitute.

The writing has a poetic bent that ought to sound self-conscious, but in these sure hands nothing of the sort occurs. It comes across, however, vaguely like what might result if Dylan Thomas were to land a screenwriting job on a remake of The Wild Bunch. Language is clipped. Two-word sentences. One even. Skips the pronouns. Timewasting.

O’Rowe’s women have the curt morality of Hemmingway big game hunters. In the end, everything is about stepping up, or wimping out and living life as the omega male. Animal metaphors, indeed, dominate: sometimes Crestfall seems more like a game reserve than a housing estate.

Garry Hynes production is one of the director’s more elliptical, plush in certain aspects (such as Paul Arditti’s brilliantly limpid electro-soundscapes) and almost evasive in others. It leaves the words and the performances to do all the work -- and nowhere for the actors to hide if things get shaky.

O’Sullivan meets the challenge with an outstanding performance, ricocheting dangerously around on her stilettos. Mullen’s work is mildly blunted by a sense that her character is not bound to the story tightly enough, while Walsh’s Tilly is a destabilising, but fully realised heart of this uncomfortable and grimly fascinating piece.

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