Charlie Kevin and Patricia Buckley in Trans-Euro Express
(© Russ Rowland)
Charlie Kevin and Patricia Buckley in Trans-Euro Express
(© Russ Rowland)
A trip across Europe has a curative effect on a pair of lost souls in Gary Duggan's Trans-Euro Express, running at the Irish Arts Center as part of the 1st Irish Festival 2010. Directed by Chris Henry, this unsurprising play is brought to life with a curious combination of leisurely sensitivity and edgy machismo. This duality both emphasizes the piece's discrete charms and also underscores its self-conscious excesses.

Ballard (Charlie Kevin) and Gram (Roderick Hill) set off on their journey from Dublin after Gram's gotten his first record deal. He says he needs a music video for the launch of the album, and he thinks his friend, a bored and depressed office worker who once had aspirations for becoming a filmmaker, might be the perfect person to create it. Ballard offers up an idea for the video about a college student searching through Europe for a woman whom he's just glimpsed from afar. Despite the fact it's a hokey and hackneyed concept, Gram agrees to it and the two guys are off.

In their first stop, Amsterdam, they meet up with Fleur (Patricia Buckley), a former classmate of Ballard's for whom he still has romantic feelings. The scenes between Ballard and Fleur prove to be the highlight of the show as her happiness with her career and impending motherhood bring his dissatisfaction with his own life into sharp relief. And when she describes the long-past moment when romance might have blossomed between them, Buckley's carefully restrained delivery fuses bittersweet regret and long-festering anger to devastating effect.

The guys meet up with Anna (Kary Wright-Mead), a fellow Dubliner, who has become something of an ex-pat in her pursuit of an acting career, in their second stop, Berlin. Because Ballard wants her to appear in the video, she accompanies them to Prague, and along the way, she baits an increasingly maudlin Ballard even as she begins to slowly fall in love with Gram, who finds his long-dormant interest in a relationship rekindled by her presence. Wright-Mead struggles with some of the curveball behaviors that Anna has, along with the weird stories she tells, but the actress and Hill share a palpable chemistry that makes the characters' relationship marvelously steamy.

It's unfortunate that the electricity that's generated by the two couples doesn't flow into the scenes the men share, which all seem to be retreads of moments from standard booze-fueled buddy plays, designed to slowly reveal the layers of wounds the two characters share before an unconvincing redemptive ending for them. And while both Kevin and Hill do their best to instill these scenes with emotional honesty, their scenes together rarely convince.

Similarly, the monologues that stop the action or simply describe events as they are unfolding feel awkwardly inserted into the script. Indeed, one can't help but wish they had the elegance of David Bengali's lavish projection design which helps move the action across the Continent, while his generously colorful lighting defines the tone and atmosphere of individual scenes.