In a program note accompanying The Parting Glass, now playing at the Barrow Street Theatre, Irish playwright Dermot Bolger acknowledges the protagonist Eoin (Ray Yeates) as an alter ego, “now suddenly as old as his author, though thankfully not as follicly challenged.” You can only hope that Bolger’s life isn’t nearly as wretched as the one he crafts for Eoin. In the course of a few years following his return to the Emerald, Eoin suffers a dead wife, a dead mother, an exile son, a collapse of his finances, and long-term unemployment. That parting glass? Better make it a double.
Of course, as Bolger has it, Eoin fares no worse than the rest of Ireland, particularly its forlorn football team. That sad side, cheated out of a spot in the 2010 World Cup Finals, stands as a metaphor for both Eoin and the nation. “Those eleven men in green,” Eoin says, “twinning the accents from the sons of those who stayed and those forced to leave, feel like the only Ireland I still belong to.”
It’s nice that Eoin feels a sense of shared distress, or you might be tempted to call a penalty in regards to the harm the author keeps heaping on his character. Yet Bolger keeps a vein of resilience persisting through his prose, and Yeates, with his sad eyes, weak chin, and flapping ears, reveals himself quite gifted at gabbing, so that you’re interested to see how he’ll portray each as experience, even as you wish he didn’t have to undergo it. If a play ever deserved to have extra injury-time at its close, this is the one.