Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sheer Tantrum, ‘The Applicant’ & ‘Voices in The Rubble’: Keep Calm and Be Absurd

The Pearse Centre, Dublin
Nov 21-Dec 2

My review of The Applicant and Voices in The Rubble coming up just as soon as I make a poodle …

At a panel discussion at Galway Arts Festival this year, Michael D. Higgins observed that plays by Bertolt Brecht were never popular in Ireland. It’s interesting to think about why this was the case, especially when his absurdist contemporaries Becket and Pinter were commonly produced. It prompts one to question what kind of home there has been in Ireland for the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, that is, a school of performance that sought sense in the senseless, the inadequacy of rationality in a human condition that is ultimately at mercy to invisible forces outside their control.

Sheer Tantrum’s Vincent O’Reilly has found a suspect that fits the absurist M.O., the invisible string-puller: the powerful influence of capitalist auhority. In The Applicant he puts job hopeful Ian through an unorthodox interview process complicated by a sexual temptress/employer (Nichola MacEvilly) and a balloon animal-wielding mute (Simon Toal) also competing for the position. If only Ian had some indication as to what the job entails.

Whatever service Fern, Table, Tree and Bush Inc. provide, we can assume the labour doesn’t merit the pay grade, giving a polite but political nod to the bloated bonuses of bank managers and other industrial/financial giants who receive overpay. O’Reilly presents a relatable figure here, dole dry and desperate for an income, played humbly by Patrick O’Donnell. Duncan Lacroix comically jukeboxes sound effects from behind the audience, and his menacing presence as “Management” edges the piece towards darker territory and sharper critique(*).

(*) ‘The Applicant’ brings about the same agressive capitalism theme that was prominent this week in ‘Big Maggie’, specifically in how it also depicts the destruction of human relations in the prioritision of economic capital.

As intrinsic as the economic and the familial are in the foundations of our society, fitting it is then that Darren Donohue locates his drama in the home in Voices in The Rubble. When Tony (David Thompson) comes home to his wife Avril (Amy Dunne) with news of losing his job and a candid description of having sex with the secretary, she requests for more sensitivity on his part. This is rich, considering the dead body Avril has hung up in the fridge and her complete inability to remember who he was and why she killed him.

Donohue’s writing takes fantastic leaps in irrationality. With a pace so frantic and quick, the inadequacy of logic is dragged through the dust and the effect is deleriously entertaining. Snappy deliveries by Thompson, Dunne, and John Morton (inroduced as a wild-eyed adorer of Avril) spin and spin this narrative of domestic stillness until it turns on its head, becoming some time-slipped romanticisation of how one chooses to remember their lover. The most bizarre consequence of this is that Morton’s character undergoes some kind of reverse Oedipal complex. The highlight though is a monologue by Dunne, an unexpected and beautiful avenue down a marital sadness where she describes her fear of her house crumbling to the ground. The moment is a touching portrait of the vulnerability of one investing their life into their commitment to another’s.

It’s arguable that both components of Sheer Tantrum’s double-bill chase a Beckettian ‘stilness’ (though perhaps Bob Dylan is more of an influence for O’Reilly, who makes literal use of the words of All Along the Watchtower). These works are contrived but that does not mean they are devoid of tangible substance. These realities are incredibly real, and these two playwrights appear to be enjoying not just dismantling them but also their presentation on the stage.  

What did everybody else think?

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