Thursday, January 24, 2013

15th Oak, 'The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle': Remembrance

Smock Alley Theatre,
Jan 14-26

My review of The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle coming up just as soon as the pragmatic, organisational part of my brain kicks in and I develop a haphazard filing system ...

As local shopkeeper Mr. Downey stands over the fresh grave, accompanied on the day of mourning only by the deceased's haughty uncle, his gaze stays on the cemetery gates, waiting for the arrival of more. Unfortunately attendance is low on commemorating the dead man, Eric Argyle, who is busier dead than you may think. A series of pre-selected scenes from his life has been laid out for his viewing pleasure (and ours) in some limbo realm of floating lampshades and sombre guitar strains. It all sounds a bit Dickens, and sure to be a formula we've seen many times before.


The action is plotted by competent author, Ross Dungan. Dungan has gotten into trouble in the past for his overly-novelistic detail. In his 2011 play, Minute After Midday, the playwright's presence was imposing, the stage essentially buckling at the seams under weighty monologues. But now the playwright seems to have found a soulmate in director Dan Herd, whose sweeping vision applies Dungan's elegant prose to the stage like rich brushstrokes to a canvas.

The play can be appropriately described as an Epic, evoking a wide world of characters and relationships, all sustained by a marvelous ensemble. As Manus Halligan hopefully looks to the cemetery gates as the humble Mr. Dowling, you can't help but feel a pang of sympathy that others won't care about the unfortunate Argyle.

And so the play draws on a very universal fear - that of how we will be remembered after our time, or, indeed, if we will be remembered at all.

As Karen Sheridan's consterned cellist continues to piece together the thousands of anonymous letters she's received, we become hopeful that the life of Argyle may be committed to print. However, some gestures remain undisclosed to those who would appreciate them most, and such is the ability of this powerful play: to dip in and out of the most miraculous and essential moments, to be both generous and bittersweet.

By the time we reach the crescendo of the final act we witness Argyle and his companions all vanish into prose completely, and we're left clinging to the instrumental words of the narrators for their final fate. It's a perfectly tuned conclusion, insuring that for years to come it will be a talking point to have seen the demise of Mr. Eric Agyle. 

What did everybody else think?

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