The play is by Daniel Magee, a Belfast native whose playwriting career began at age 40. The production features some nice acting, and bits of the writing rise briefly out of the polemic that weighs the whole thing down. The script contains allusions to Brendan Behan and Sean O'Casey but the play crumbles under the weight of their legacy into a ham-fisted, badly structured, unintentionally farcical morass.
Declan Mooney stars as the street-wise Irish laborer Damien, who has immigrated to London in the 1980s and taken residence at a rooming house run by Mrs. Somers, a kindly old Irishwoman played by Mary Jasperson. The other three boarders' reactions to Damien are clearly intended to reflect those of various layers of British society at the time: Brian, a Cockney laborer, hates "paddys"; Colin is an upper crust liberal whose doctoral thesis has him living among those he studies; and Michael is an Irish laborer in his 50s whose worldview comes straight from the British tabloids.
Allan Styer's performance as the one-dimensional Brian is a bit over-the-top at times but essentially believable and chilling throughout. Brian's Cockney accent, his menace, bigotry, and cruel humor are convincingly shown off when he tells Michael, the working stiff played stiffly by Frank Shattuck, that their new roommate's nationality begins with the letter P. Baiting Michael, a longtime boarding house resident, with the idea that the new man is a "Paki," Brian reveals instead that another paddy is coming from Ireland to look for work. Michael's acceptance of Brian's domination stretches credibility, and his thick-headedness makes him someone we can't wait to see shut up.
To be fair, Shattuck is saddled with a thankless role, not to mention caricaturish hair and makeup that only serve to emphasize the gap between his age and Michael's. Additionally, he and the others seem to have suffered from insufficient rehearsal; at the performance I attended, lines were stepped upon in nearly every scene, and the actors' timing was rather chaotic. One can't help but feel compassion for those on stage and wonder whether director Herman Babad should have delayed the opening for a few more days, at least.
Still, one must admire the spirit of the ensemble. Kelly Miller plays the milquetoast Colin -- he of a liberal posture that's pathetic, self-serving and weak -- with admirable willingness to become this emasculated hypocrite. Were Magee to have employed some subtlety in the script, the story of Colin's bond with Annette, his left-wing radical girlfriend-of-sorts, and her attraction to Damien might have been much more compelling. As it is, the scenes between these characters are bogged down in the particulars of human relationships. Perhaps Annette's complaint about Colin -- "You're in the middle of a forest and all you can think of is, 'there's a tree!'" -- should be heeded by the playwright.
Some of the audience seemed to enjoy the unsubtle political blows landed in the play, especially as it flirts with the idea that one person's terrorist is the next person's hero in an impassioned speech by Damien about being born looking down the barrel of a British gun. Praise should go to Jasperson, who does nice work as Mrs. Somers, and Mooney, whose tendency to play to the audience is somewhat tempered here. But Paddywack never manages to take its complex issues apart. This is largely because the characters, as is the case in so many political dramas, are not people we like or care much about. Relevance and timeliness must be accompanied by a nuanced understanding of people and issues to contribute something valuable to the theater and to public discussion of terrorism; otherwise, we end up two hours older and none the wiser.
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