Friday, September 19, 2014

15th Oak, 'Reckoners': Welcome to the Stra

There is something off about The Stra - the fictional town in Ross Dungan's new play. In a town without order, the structure feels forced.

The Lir, Dublin Fringe Festival
Sept 16-20

My review of Reckoners by Ross Dungan coming up just as soon as I'm unaware of the grenade that I've rolled into the centre of the room ...

There is something off about The Stra, the lawless fictional town in Ross Dungan's new play. The inhabitants are too keen to accept whatever awful fate is thrust upon them. Up until the moment Conal McCarthy (John Cronin), recently released after 22 years in jail, meets the young man Jamie McHugh (Manus Halligan), tasked by his family to murder him, the intertwining destinies between both feel seriously unquestioned. There isn't much convincing in the gentle demeanour of Jamie to execute, nor in the fighting Conal to welcome it. In a town without order, the structure feels forced.

Menaced by the reality of a controlled existence, Reckoners feels in the same strain as a Harold Pinter play, though its danger can be undercut by romantic passages and poetic detail. Zia Holly's smouldering set, depicting a blasted town-land of crumbling brick and floating strips of galvanised sheeting, is an effective backdrop for the plethora of images projected by Dungan's script. It's a tougher space to navigate. Dan Herd's direction doesn't fully distinguish between the two narrators and their presences onstage, and Holly's lighting tends to catch the peripheral performer while illuminating the speaker. When the characters do cross paths, it doesn't feel monumental.

Dungan is best described as a prose author who writes for the stage, using novelistic detail in lieu of dramatic action. When distributed broadly onstage the weight of his crisp script can lessen and guide us somewhere affecting, as in his epic The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle. As a less-sussed manuscript, Reckoners isn't as sustained an experience.

What did everyone else think?

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