At the Irish Rep, a company that often showcases exhilarating work, two rather-less-than exhilarating evenings are on offer. But one is far better than the other.
On their main stage Banished Children of Eve a commissioned world premiere by Kelly Younger, adapted from Peter Quinn’s novel, is a melodrama set in the Bowery during the summer of the Civil War. Racial tensions are exploding even in northern New York City and the story focuses on a collision between the members of a theatre troupe, a couple of con-men hustlers (one of whom has a lethal bent), and—unseen, but heard—a marauding, predominantly Irish mob. Younger’s adaptation is unfortunately foursquare and without any truly theatrical invention and lands rather like one of those dutiful adaptations of popular properties commissioned by licensing outfits for mounting in community theatres and schools. Alas, under the direction of Ciaran O’Reilly (who has done far better work for this company), it also has a ragged edge that feels a little community theatre-ish, in the sense that transitions between scenes are clumsy, the casting is far from ideal, and despite a general competence, there’s not much in the way of nuance or flair.
On the Iresh Rep’s lower level Studio Theatre stage there’s St. Nicholas, a revival of Conor McPherson’s play for one actor who plays a London-based drama critic, describing his encounter with an enclave of vampires. It’s not a bad story, more atmospheric than scary (McPhersion is more interested here in the horrors that insinuate than the ones that go booga-booga), and actor John Martello holds stage well enough in the telling; and I don’t pretend that’s easy to do, especially when there’s an intermission to break concentration and offer the option of escape. But Martello is only a decent actor; I give him full marks for being truthful and unaffected, but he hasn’t the quiet power nor the capacity for the profound roar that characterized the performance of Brian Cox when the play debuted in NYC during 1998. Then again, perhaps that’s a tall order. Unlike his colleagues upstairs, Martello is at least telling the tale well.
Speaking of one man shows, Colin Quinn: Long Story Short at the Helen Hayes features the burly, Irish-American standup comic expounding on nothing less than the history of the world, as regards the development of national and a few ethnic characteristics. It’s a funny idea and within there are some funny riffs, but as with most stand-up routines, there’s a certain stream-of-consciousness threading that ties the components together, and so the focus of the piece isn’t always as sharp as it promises to be, with the result that one’s own focus can waver. Which is not to say that Quinn is bombing or loses laughs. Enough of the audience stays with him to give the impression that, whatever may be true about the over-arching thesis, he’s still, moment-to-moment, on his game. The evening’s director is another standup icon: Jerry Seinfeld.
The sorta-kinda-almost one man show to absolutely-positively-forsure see is Mistakes Were Made by Craig Wright at the Barrow Street Theatre, an “import” from Chicago. It stars Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as beleaguered Broadway producer Felix Artifex, over-extended and in over his head (and possibly beyond his competence) trying to get a play about the French Revolution mounted. Fielding one phone call after another in his small, disheveled office, serving too many cooks in his own kitchen, as it were—playwright, British director, mercenary agent, potential star from movies, and when he has time, ex-wife—Felix spins a complex cats cradle of truth, half-truth, lies, accommodations, compromises and in doing so becomes the virtual poster boy for Getting it On at the expense of Losing the Vision. A dark, but not too dark, comedy—that at 90 intermissionless minutes could use maybe 10 to 15 worth of trimming—Mistakes Were Made is nonetheless a fresh, engaging character study and a tour de force for any actor virtuoso enough to carry it, which Mr. Shannon is in spades. His Felix is pathetic, sad and desperate yet curiously lovable for being so recognizably human, and that makes him—painfully sometimes—quite funny as well. Mierka Girten plays his secretary-assistant, and though she is mostly unseen throughout, it’s clear why she too has been imported from the Chicago staging: her verbal interaction with Mr. Shannon requires Swiss watch precision and as the current slang goes, she’s all over it. Invisible (and therefore expert and, given the nature of the play, entirely appropriate) direction is by Dexter Bullard.Go to David Spencer's Profile