Hughie Dolan and Sorcha Fox in Bogboy
(© Russ Rowland)
Hughie Dolan and Sorcha Fox in Bogboy
(© Russ Rowland)
A tale of two lost souls looking for redemption unfolds alongside a decades-old mystery in Deirdre Kinahan's richly imagined if underdeveloped, Bogboy, playing at the Irish Arts Center. Director Jo Mangan's starkly conceived, 55-minute production may never fully convince, but it features a pair of powerhouse performances that almost mitigate the play's shortcomings.

The play centers on how Brigit (Sorcha Fox), a newly clean drug addict, and Hughie (Steve Blount), a loner living on the bogs in rural Ireland, become unlikely friends as she tries to reclaim her life. Kinahan frames the scenes revealing the trajectory of their friendship -- as well as what Brigit perceives as Hughie's ultimate betrayal of her trust -- with scenes in which Brigit composes a letter that she hopes will put questions about a long unsolved crime to rest.

Kinahan's structure for the play is certainly expedient. Brigit's missive allows the playwright to convey generous amounts of exposition quickly. There's also an unfortunate downside to the device: Brigit's (and Hughie's) biggest secret is revealed within the first few scenes of the play; and as a result, theatergoers find themselves anticipating the downfall of Brigit and Hughie's friendship.

The playwright does attempt to fuel dramatic tension late in the play with a volcanic scene in which Brigit, supervised by her social worker Annie (Noelle Brown), has a visit from her ex-husband Darren (Emmet Kirwan) and their unseen infant daughter. But the sequence simply devolves into strained melodrama.

What impresses most -- even during this latter scene -- is the commitment and emotional honesty that Fox and Blount bring to their performances. Fox, whose expressive face can communicates volumes, imbues Brigit with harshness and steely reserve that can often give way to a surprising vulnerability and almost childlike innocence. Blount's work as the distracted and guilt-ridden Hughie is strikingly nuanced, particularly as he allows Hughie's growing affection for Brigit to emerge.

Mangan has staged the piece so that the performers never face one another, delivering scenes directly toward the audience. It's initially a disconcerting approach, but it's one that ultimately proves to be highly effective as it not only underscores the emotional distances that the characters keep from one another, but also allows theatergoers to fully savor Blount and Fox's exceptional work.

Similarly, Ciaran Bagnall's production design, which consists only of a scrim and an almost expressionistic black-and-white streaked sky that are enhanced by terrifically atmospheric lighting and grainy monochrome video, eerily puts the performers in sharp relief.