Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Man as Some Kind of Baffling Monster

Image of Dick Walsh's Some Baffling Monster from a work in progress performance

"Greek tragedy reveals Man as some kind of baffling monster", wrote philosopher Simon Critchley. It's one of several diverse references sourced from philosophers to screenwriters, Euripides to Paul Newman, that Dick Walsh mentions in our interview.

An Irish Times reviewer summed up their experience of his last play, a dangerman, as: "At one point in last night's show, I thought he might actually kill us". But while sitting in a café, Walsh kindly gets up from the table and asks the barista what flavour tea would best serve to unwind me from the stress of my day job. 

We then discuss his new play in the Dublin Fringe Festival: Some Baffling Monster

"I had an idea to re-look at the Greek play, where they discuss morals in a very overt way and characters have a very moral debate onstage". He goes on to describe how he adapted the plot of a Paul Newman movie, Hud, to an Irish scenario of a struggle between an old man and his son for the family farm. "I took this story as a set up for a moral debate: what makes a good man?"

Fringe Festival Director Róise Goan once described Walsh's previous company, Side-Show Productions, as "champions of the outsider". I asked him what he thinks this means.

"Maybe the aesthetic comes from outside the typical world of theatre. We didn't study acting. We were well into our twenties before we dared to perform. And I guess we wouldn't be natural performers. It's like a voice for those who perform but are not a performer, who are on a stage but are not trained in stagecraft".

Indeed, the Side-Show aesthetic that Walsh continues to foster doesn't seem to be about demonstrating an emotional range of an actor. How then does something as odd and banal as a dangerman manage to be flinching and engrossing theatre? 

He would cite Richard Maxwell (who is coming to Dublin in October) and his use of neutrality as a major influence: "In his plays there's no denying that this is a person who has learned off a text and is delivering it in front of people. That's important because it's making it clear to the audience that your interpretation of this character is just as valid as mine. Your understanding of the story is just as valid as mine".

This seems important for Walsh, who as a very political human being voices his disdain for complicity. He recalls the collapse of the Berlin Wall in his youth and the prevailing idea of one order of which to rule the world, uncontested by those complacent with the notion that people smarter than them will handle it. He admits that his own views would often oscillate between right wing and communist. "The important thing is that we keep talking about it", he says, "Keep reassessing. In my plays I guess that's there. I put in ideas that contradict each other on the same page. I want people to think that there is no one correct way".

As political as his practice may seem it's also worth mentioning that its effect is often hilarious. In a dangerman he bartered with audiences over the selling price of his play script and issued random requests for people to take off their clothes. Further back in Side-Show's Dreams of Love he gave the most un-spectacular presentation of eating a sandwich ever seen onstage. 

If there is one correct way of making theatre, Walsh doesn't conform to it. He's an outsider and that's what makes him damn unpredictable. 

Some Baffling Monster runs Sept 17-21 at 7pm at the International Bar.

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