Enda Walsh riffs on Waiting for Godot in his new play at St. Ann's Warehouse.
In Enda Walsh's Ballyturk, Godot actually shows up.
Her name isn't "Godot" in this case. In the script, she's simply billed as "3." And the pair of tramps who spend their days and nights repeating the same tasks over and over aren't called Vladimir and Estragon. Here, they're simply "1" and "2." But if you're ever wondering what might happen when the waiting finally ends, St. Ann's Warehouse has got a show for you.
As enigmatic, exhilarating, nonsensical, and frustrating as Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, Ballyturk is set in a similar no-man's land, a massive hangar turned into a makeshift living room. Jamie Vartan's set has no windows or doors, but it does have a working shower, a Murphy bed, cabinets that explode with detritus whenever opened, and a cuckoo clock that goes off at the most inopportune moments. It's at once cold and disorienting, yet homey and lived-in. In short, this is the perfect location for a play about two people who seem to have no idea why they are where they are, and a third person who upends their existence.
Until that point, though, we've been watching a dumb show of epic proportions featuring two terrific clowns: 1 (played by Tadhg Murphy) and 2 (Mikel Murfi). Walsh, who also directs, guides us through their daily routine – showers, changes of clothing, eating – and these expert physical comedians perform these chores as if they're being fast-forwarded. (At one point, there's even a training montage, which Walsh stages with hilariously sped-up ferocity.)
When they're not listening to voices having conversations in the ether (the soundscape, important enough to be a fourth character, is created by Helen Atkinson), 1 and 2 reenact the goings-on in the world of Ballyturk, a town of their own creation. With the aid of Adam Silverman's hypnotic lighting, Murphy and Murfi (what a perfect marquee pairing) lose themselves in a world of make-believe, where Murfi, brilliantly exacting, transforms himself into more than 20 different characters within two minutes. Their well-worn performances feed off each other, and this effervescent clowning takes a turn upon 3's arrival.
Intrepid viewers of shows like The Twilight Zone will no doubt figure out the "secret" shortly after the walls literally fall down and 3, played with magnificently quiet menace by Olwen Fouéreé, swaggers onto the scene in a pencil skirt (Vartan's costumes for the men, everyday street wear gone to seed, are as character-defining as his set). At that point, Ballyturk becomes a lot more direct in its storytelling (a good thing, as the tomfoolery is fun but starts wearing thin very quickly). Though Walsh isn't adding any particularly new insight into the theatrical conversation about life, death, and everything in between, once we see the direction in which he's going, we are able to focus more on what's important. The work, too, finds a nice little center, and there is an unexpected poignancy that follows as Murphy and Murfi confront all of the feelings they thought they'd forgotten during the unknown amount of time they've been together.
Ballyturk concludes with not one but two different 11th-hour twists, both of which underscore the major theme of the play: Life is short and lonely, but it's better to be lonely together than just alone.