Smock Alley Theatre, ABSOLUT Fringe 2011
I interviewed Nick Lee about his play Luca & the Sunshine and my gushing over the dream-team of him, Matt Torney and John Cronin. A few thoughts on the production coming up just as soon as I break this interrogatory proposal and put it back together piece by piece ...
“A boy can’t take back his only prayer in life. Can he?”
- Luca Dinkslavi
We are all trained in distinguishing genre, identifying the gothic, the romantic, the comedy, the tragedy. Delightful it is then to see how director Matt Torney brings something curiously different as Nick Lee’s short story to stage, which is part modernist poem, part fable from the East.
The elements seem bent on punishing young Luca. It has not stopped raining in a long time. His brother has been lost, presumably at sea, leaving his parents depressed. Swans glare threateningly as he goes. In school the Bulshoi Brothers make his life a daily torment, and in a moment of rebellion he loses the respect of Mr. Romany, his linguistics teacher and advocate. The light in all the darkness: Maya, a sweet girl from school. But when he stands to lose his father as well he decides he’s had enough. He prays for the sun to come out.
Lee’s writing shimmers quite beautifully, emitting glee and fear in descriptions such as that of Luca fishing with his father or his mother in her dressing gown keeping a bottle of schnapps cocked like a loaded gun against her head (and his). A metre driving along with ‘stream of consciousness’ revelation (“I find feet. My feet. Under me and move to go”) is an interesting lyrical exercise but its technique can uncrown its promise.
Cronin paces wonderfully throughout though, especially the more joyous and proud his character becomes. Hear him yelp with delight when Luca realises that his class will take place outside, grinning with pride for bringing the sun. He’s accompanied by the sweet and terrifying glaze of Lioba Petrie’s cello, wobbling with dread, ringing fondly to Maya, and spiralling fearsomely in communion with Luca’s prayer. Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting design transforms the bare space effectively and smoulders Torney’s radiant production to a close.
By this time Lee’s story has left you with more questions than answers. Why he has his tale hum with hope only so that it can burn to a cinder with some unknown force responsible is puzzling. We can’t accredit it to the ‘be careful what you wish for’ motif because while Lee has crafted a charming personality of insecurity, confidence and desire, greed is not one of Luca’s flaws. It’s frustrating that our investment in the character and story is lost immorally to this transcendent magical realism.
What did everybody else think?