Dude, Where’s My Carr?
Certain glossy magazines may enthusiastically announce a girl’s thirties to be her new twenties, but our heroine hasn’t been keeping up with her reading. The 30th-birthday girl in question, playwright Marina Carr’s eponymous Portia Coughlan (Show World), is approaching the anniversary unmerciful and strained. Her loveless marriage, meaningless affairs, and insufferable family don’t help much. But it’s Portia’s twin brother, Gabriel, who drowned himself 15 years ago and has haunted her since, who’s putting her off her cake.
Celtic writer Carr scripts an appealing, low-rent Irish gothic—more factory town than lordly manse, more bottle of cider than cask of amontillado. But in the hands of director Aaron Beall, Carr’s palatable distillation grows as murky as an Irish stew. Beall’s one intervention is larding the play with selections culled from New York’s Irish bar jukeboxes. But the musical interludes at the end of every scene (or, owing to miscuing, amid scenes) slow the plot. Such a long time elapses between the play’s mystery and revelation that you could well forget what you didn’t know.
As a whole, the performances are similarly forgettable. Beall has assembled an apparently able cast, but hasn’t encouraged them to form relationships with one another —each performs his or her part tolerably well in a sort of vacuum. As the titular Gaelic gamine, Mercedes McAndrew proves difficult to judge—she either skillfully captures a woman distanced from her emotional life or, as an actor, is almost incapable of projecting much emotional life at all. Though popular with some regional theaters, Carr has not been staged much in Manhattan, and—directorial missteps aside—it’s a pity. Perhaps Portia, when blowing out her candles, could wish for a few new productions. —Alexis Soloski
The Mother Hunt
“Who am I?” every teenager wonders. But when you’re the only fatty in your family—and you’re adopted—the potential answers blow up like the distorted images in a house of mirrors. In her autobiographical one-woman show, Homecoming (ArcLight Theatre), Lauren Weedman mines this dilemma’s possibilities.
Enacting all the players in her life, the writer-performer takes us on a whirlwind journey that will reveal her birth mother’s identity. When she asks her adoptive Mom for some info, “Lauren” unwittingly launches her well-meaning but daffy parent on a quest. As Mom plays bumbling detective inside the Indiana social service bureaucracy and the adoptees’ support group network, Lauren writhes in humiliation, confusion, and hope.
Weedman delineates her characters well. Grandma, stooped and not all there, erupts in incoherent clichés about her origins. Mom bristles with eccentric tics and manic energy, and sister Lisa, a Valley girl-ish princess, alternately blubbers her affection and issues orders about folding her sweaters. Weedman also portrays a motley assortment of adoption-world people, who add color to this carnival.
Some of the adoptees’ tales and imaginings are sad and funny. One girl envisions a 400-pound dimwit for a mother; another’s dad introduces her as my “mistake.” As Lauren tries on different ethnicities, from Hispanic and black to Jewish, she makes us laugh. But Weedman also wanders over terrain only peripherally relevant to her story, like tongue-kissing her black boyfriend and the goings-on at Granny’s funeral.
If all this seems as if it could be wildly funny or achingly poignant, well, that’s the aim. Despite director Maryann Lombardi’s sudden infusions of raucous music and dancing, Homecoming drags at times. Weedman, appealing and talented, makes us want to like her and her work. But her piece, like the adolescent it portrays, needs to lose that baby fat and sharpen its silhouette. —Francine Russo
Jimmy Murphy’s The Kings of the Kilburn High Road (Irish Arts Center) should be flat as yesterday’s Guinness. Five Irishmen, who are nothing like monarchs in their lower-class London environs, meet in the leatherette-and-fake-wood back room of their “local.” That’s the beginning of the unpromising news; the continuation is that they’re there for a friend’s wake. So, yes, this is a bar-wake play and as such a double cliché. For two acts, the tetchy men toss the whiskey back. The drunker they get, the more they argue about whether they’d be better off returning to Ireland. Not that they ever would or could.
But playwright Murphy has added an unexpected element to the lineup of stock situations. Terse Shay Mulligan, spouse-beating Maurteen Rodgers, volatile Jap Kavanagh, malleable Git Miller, and successful businessman Joe Mullen came wide-eyed and hopeful to London in 1975, when the city looked like a golden promise. Aside from enterprising Mullen, the men never found their footing. Murphy’s trump card is that, unlike the usual whopper-swapping boozathon, he’s writing about men around whom economic and social conditions have greatly changed. They’ll be out of step whether they remain or go back. Murphy has created four men who have slipped through a treacherous crack in time and are wriggling helplessly. Their very real and scrupulously observed plight is painful to watch.
Murphy’s written a naturalistic piece, but Jim Nolan has directed his actors to go about their work with all blarney stops pulled out. Since Brendan Conroy, Eamonn Hunt, Sean Lawlor, Noel O’Donovan, and Frank O’Sullivan have played Murphy’s elegy with the Red Kettle Theatre in Waterford, Ireland, as well as at London’s Tricycle Theatre, they definitely know how to vivify the boozy lines, and consistently do. —David Finkle