Talking Movies

May 16, 2018

RIP Tom Murphy

I attended Dancing at Lughnasa at the 2015 Dublin Theatre Festival mere days after the death of Brian Friel. That production served almost as a wake, and Graham Price and I mused then that Tom Murphy was now Ireland’s greatest living playwright. Alas, now he is taken from us too.

I studied The Gigli Concert for my MA in Anglo-Irish Literature & Drama. I didn’t really get it, nor did I think that, despite patches of undoubted brilliance, it really worked overall. Only for Frank McGuinness to pronounce that often Murphy’s work didn’t read very well, it had to be performed to really come alive. I remember scratching my head at the time about that. My unspoken objection was: how would you ever know something was worth performing if you had to perform it first to see its quality? Frank McGuinness, of course, knew best. 2012 saw a feast of Murphy on the Dublin stage and I reviewed three of those productions here. First out of the blocks was Annabelle Comyn’s revival of The House, which dripped Chekhov, and a savagery in characterisation and theme when tackling emigration. But savagery in Murphy hit its high water-mark at the very beginning with A Whistle in the Dark, which formed part of DruidMurphy’s repertory at the Dublin Theatre Festival. The primal violence of A Whistle in the Dark brutalised the Gaiety’s substantial capacity into a stunned silence. It still remains one of my most vivid theatrical memories. And then, in a marvel of repertory, the same cast turned their hands to the serious comedy Conversations on a Homecoming; with Rory Nolan and Garrett Lombard morphing from the two scariest brothers in Whistle to an amiable duffer and the village intellectual scrapper respectively.

Druid returned to the Murphy well for a striking production of Bailegangaire a couple of years later. President Michael D Higgins was in attendance when I saw it with Graham Price and Tom Walker who summed it up perfectly as ‘Happy Days as Irish kitchen sink drama’. It is startling to think in retrospect that Murphy’s classic was packing out the Gaiety, when it represented such a collision of the avant-garde with the popular mainstream. When the Gate finally broke its duck and presented The Gigli Concert as its first foray into Murphy’s oeuvre the same thing happened: packed audiences, to the extent that the play was brought back for a second run. Graham Price reviewed it on the second run, to add a corrective to what he felt was my insufficiently admiring review from the first time round. I realised that it did work better in performance than it read, but still didn’t think it was the ne plus ultra of Irish drama. And then I ended my belated exploration of Murphy’s work where I began, with Annabelle Comyn directing on the Abbey stage in the summer. But The Wake was a very different proposition than The House.  Comyn threw practically every Bat-tool in the director’s utility belt at it but Murphy’s rambling script proved ungovernable. But for all that there was still much brilliance shining thru the wreckage. Not bad for a play written in his early sixties.

I have a personal hit-list of key Murphy plays left to see: A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant, The Morning after Optimism, and The Sanctuary Lamp. Now, whether anyone other than Druid will put them on in this current cultural climate is sadly quite another matter.

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/the-house/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/a-whistle-in-the-dark/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/conversations-on-a-homecoming/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/bailegangaire/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/the-gigli-concert/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/the-gigli-concert-3/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/the-wake/

Advertisements

October 7, 2014

Bailegangaire

DruidMurphy returns to the Dublin Theatre Festival with an enthralling revival of Tom Murphy’s 1985 play of storytelling and crisis.

bailegangaire

The ailing elderly Mommo (Marie Mullen) lies propped up against the pillows in her bed, which is in the middle of the kitchen of a small house. She is nursed by her granddaughter Mary (Catherine Walsh), who gets little thanks for her ministrations; Mommo does not recognise her, and treats her as a servant. Mommo’s mind is instead in the past, telling the same story every night, a story she never finishes; about how the town of Bochtan became known as Bailegangaire, and why no one there over the age of reason ever laughs. Mary is driven to distraction by this, and when her abrasive sister Dolly (Aisling O’Sullivan) arrives on her motorbike, they fight over Mary’s responsibilities towards Mommo, and Dolly’s abusive husband Stephen, until Dolly becomes oddly determined to make Mommo finally tell her story to its conclusion.

I wasn’t familiar with Bailegangaire, and so found the first act rather disorienting. Mommo’s continually interrupted story about Bochtan’s finest laugher and the challenge of a stranger at the fair that he had a better laugh was exceedingly hard to keep track of, but in the second act as Mommo is driven by Mary to finish the story and as Rick Fisher’s lights single in on Mommo it becomes quite mesmerising as the laughing competition is relayed; with its outcome told before its conduct in a charmingly perverse move. Bailegangaire is also quite scabrous. Mommo uses a bedpan at length, Dolly roars off on her motorbike for a quickie with her lover, and Murphy gifts Dolly, Mary, and Mommo a fair quota of earthy insults. Mullen alternates nicely between demanding requests, shy requests, and malicious moments in her challenging role.

But despite the monologist storytelling by Mommo, this is very much a three-hander. Walsh makes viscerally evident Mary’s despair; she needs to escape but she can’t escape because the conditions which create the need also prevent its execution – her crippling familial duty to care for the oblivious Mommo. O’Sullivan is on fine form as the swaggering but damaged Dolly, but her accent overplayed hoarse Whesth of Ireland. Francis O’Connor’s impeccably realist set disappears into darkness at roof level, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design renders passing cars practically just past its wall, but director Garry Hynes is focused on the performances. Murphy’s play has a Beckettian quality, with its narration that has to be continually forlornly attempted, but it’s rooted firmly in the 1980s; yet its zeitgeist undercurrents of new technology and crises with multinationals seem to collapse that thirty-year gap.

My fellow academics Graham Price and Tom Walker, both previously mentioned in dispatches here, dubbed Bailegangaire Happy Days as Irish kitchen sink drama’. I’m not about to disagree, Murphy’s unexpectedly redemptive storytelling is towering.

4/5

January 9, 2014

Delivery Man

Vince Vaughn stars in a rapid, identikit American remake of a hit Canadian film by its original writer/director Ken Scott.

DELIVERY MAN

David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is an incompetent meat delivery man for the family business. He’s in disgrace with his father and brothers for predictably messing up their basketball team photo-shoot, $80,000 in debt to scary people, planning to grow marijuana in his apartment to raise money, and his estranged NYPD cop girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) has just announced she’s pregnant and doesn’t want him involved. Into this mess of a life intrude his 533 biological children… A lapse in judgement at a sperm bank has seen his 693 samples prove remarkably fertile and now 142 of these children are suing to find out just who is their father. His best friend house-husband Brett (Chris Pratt) renews his licence to fight for David’s right to anonymity, but David starts to act as guardian angel to progeny including troubled Kristen (Britt Robertson)…

Delivery Man is being misleadingly sold as a comedic romp. There are some laugh-out loud moments punctuated throughout the film, but in truth it’s a warm dramedy rather than a comedy. Simon Delaney makes no impact as David’s acerbic brother, Victor despite having comparable screen-time to his turn in This Must Be the Place, because of the poverty of the material available to him. Jack Reynor as David’s struggling actor son Josh has a glorified cameo in which his initial obnoxiousness is hard to overcome. Chris Pratt’s exhausted lawyer has the best lines and gives by far the funniest performance, but even that’s faint praise. The few of David’s children who are characterised; pretentious morbid philosopher Viggo (Adam Chanler-Berat), unstintingly cheerful busker Adam (Dave Patten), smooth gay lothario Channing (Matthew Daddario); are all caricatures, transparently there to service David’s arc.

Scott seems uninterested in proffering anything other than naive optimism. Despite his 80k debt David manages to find money to intervene positively in the lives of his children. His wise Polish father (Andrzej Blumenfeld) notes that David is four times slower than most delivery men, but is beloved wherever he goes. But what’s so loveable about David’s m.o. of being hopelessly unreliable then occasionally making a grand gesture? As Tom Walker pointed out to me, Vaughn makes his obligatory rapid-fire speech telling some home truths. But Scott avoids numerous knotty questions. Where are the parents who raised the 142? How do they feel?  Why do none of the 142 express hurt to David? And what about the other 391 – the clear majority – who have no interest in finding out the identity of the man behind the sperm donor pseudonym Starbuck?

Delivery Man is perfectly fine, it’s neither a hilarious comedy nor a touching drama, but is content to plod along efficiently somewhere in between; but that’s not a recommendation, more a lack of condemnation.

2.5/5

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.