Bloom is on "Roses' but slow to appear
Irish family drama more accomplished than production "RED ROSES and Petrol" feels like it's running low on fuel in its overly long first act, but just hang in there. The dysfunctional Dublin family drama, which opened Saturday at 450 Geary Studio Theatre, gets a lot more interesting after the intermission.
A first play by Joseph O'Connor - Sinead's older brother and a leading light in his own right of the latest generation of Irish novelists - "Roses" enjoyed considerable success in Ireland and England three years ago. Its West Coast premiere is a co-production of the Berkeley-based Shotgun Players and the newly formed Diaspora Productions, in association with the Irish Arts Foundation.
(Diaspora was founded specifically to bring the work of contemporary Irish playwrights to the Bay Area. The scrappy little Shotgun Players recently moved into its own new theater, in the back of a South Berkeley printing shop, after six years in the basement of a pizza parlor. Its first production in its new home, Christopher Hampton's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," plays through April 19.)
This is, unfortunately, a better play than the production it's being given. O'Connor has created a realistically complex web of tender and hostile family ties as his Doyles gather for the wake to which no one comes. "Roses" may look at times like just another dysfunctional Irish family drama, with dark secrets to be revealed in due time. But its characters have real depth, its flashback- and video-studded structure contains some hidden delights and its secret is more intriguing than you expect.
It's the day of the funeral of Enda Doyle (an engaging Owen Murphy in Janet Martinez's deft video sequences), a librarian at the university. Newly widowed Moya (Esther Mulligan) is trying to keep up appearances, and her dignity, despite the unseemly squabbling of her three grown children, all of whom bear the scars of a less than happy home life.
Medbh, pronounced "Maeve" (Wendy White), the youngest, hasn't been able to leave home. Catherine (Barbara Early, who also plays the young Moya in flashbacks to her courtship), of the bitterly sardonic wit, has returned from New York with stolidly loyal boyfriend Tom (Kevin Karrick, who doubles as young Enda) in tow. Johnny (Diaspora Artistic Director Johnny McMorrough), an emigrant to London, is such an alcoholic basketcase of bitterness that even his return for the funeral is in some doubt.
"We're not very good with relationships in our little clan," Johnny explains at one point. "It's all to do with our difficult childhood." O'Connor exploits his sibling hostilities ( "They fight like cats in a sack, sisters" ) and various family quirks - Moya ladling the deceased's ashes into plastic lunch boxes for her offspring; Medbh and Moya lapsing into Sean O'Casey characters at off moments - with considerable skill. But as funny as much of the first act is, it feels like it's just spinning its wheels.
That, however, is in large part due to Shotgun Artistic Director Patrick Dooley's production. Dooley has framed the play well. Michael Frassinelli's set is a splendidly cramped, low-budget little living room with strategically placed blankets and doilies to cover the tears in the lumpy couch and armchairs, and the pope and JFK featured amid the appropriate clutter of framed family photos.
The video sequences are crisp and clear. Christine Cilley's costumes nicely help define the characters of the family members. But their definition needs more help than that.
Dooley and his cast hadn't managed to make the characters feel like a family by opening night. Though each actor seems to have a clear notion of the general outline of his or her character, there's little sense of the dense emotional subtext of people who've grown up together. Even the accents vary considerably, leading to the unfortunate impression that Moya and her brood are working in four different productions on the same stage.
Mulligan and White create deft sketches of Moya and Medbh in the first scene. Early and Karrick sharply differentiate their brittle Catherine and slow Tom from their courtship as young Moya and Enda. But their dialogue is so lacking in emotional undercurrents, and Dooley's pacing is so flat and undifferentiated, that neither the comedy nor the underlying drama develops as it should. McMorrough comes on so strong as Johnny that he undermines the effect of his best lines.
Dooley and his actors fare better in the second act, as the family waits for the guests that never arrive at the wake - though even that major social slight doesn't register as strongly as it might. It's only in the final scenes - between White and McMorrough and between McMorrough and Mulligan - that the show really pays off. At the end of 2-1/4 hours, you begin to see the beauty and complexity of O'Connor's "Roses."
nothing very remarkable about Irishman Joseph O'Connor's play Red Roses
and Petrol. Set in the Dublin living room of a grieving family, the
play covers the kind of parent-vs.-child, sibling-vs.-sibling drama playwrights
have been parading across stages for centuries.
The Irish are at
it again in this West Coast premiere by the Shotgun Players and Diaspora
Productions. Red Roses and Petrol is the first play by Joseph O'Connor,
a noted journalist, novelist, and BOS (Brother of Sinead). When librarian
and poet Enda dies, his children return home to confront the damage wrought
by Da's cruel temper and other family secrets.