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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at 59E59 Theaters


  Aidan Kelly/ Ph: Patrick Redmond

Pride goes before a fall, as the saying runs, and the world of Irish playwright and novelist Sebastian Barry's new memory play is distinctly postlapsarian. Structured as alternating monologues delivered by an estranged married couple, the play traces their improbable glory days in the dangerous, impoverished Dublin of the 1980s—and the act of violence that destroyed their life together, if not their love.
It’s a pretty humble heaven that the two have lost. As Janet (the seraph-faced Mary Murray), a young Irish matron in a denim skirt, begins the story, she and Joe (a scruffy, hollow-eyed Aidan Kelly) grow up together in the violent, poverty-stricken streets that her memory tinges rose with happiness. The two marry and have three boys, and the unemployed Joe supports his brood by stealing from tourists’ unlocked cars. Their little family stays close through trials and tragedy—until the fateful night in 1990 when Ireland loses its chance at the World Cup, and Joe comes home and beats Janet bloody.
As the couple goes on to recount the aftermath of that fall from grace, the play never forgives or excuses Joe’s brutal act, but it doesn’t demonize him, either. Barry gives Janet the more articulate voice. She waxes poetic in her attempt to explain what’s been lost and to understand why. Joe’s jovial, even philosophical, resignation about what’s happened to him since Janet left may seem more shallow, but it becomes clear as the play progresses that it’s just cover for his underlying heartbreak. Both share an enduring sense of connection despite their long separation, and Barry’s haunting language manages to retain their individual idioms and the rhythms (and expletives) of real speech while interweaving themes and images that suggest their inescapable bond.
Though the unabashedly sentimental play’s structure relies more on rumination than action, it allows its two talented actors to concentrate on storytelling and achieve an unusual intensity—even before the final scenes when they do at last interact. Director Jim Culleton deftly balances the powerful performances with the almost-unseen relationship that links them, letting each actor linger on stage during the other’s speeches. And although the play is uncharacteristically clumsy when it tries to draw larger parallels, its real achievement—and that of its actors—is making the rapport between these two flawed people palpable and their sorrow for their problematic past so resonant. 


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