'The Walworth Farce' brings a darkly comic look at family lifeby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The Druid Theater, one of Ireland's best known companies is in the Twin Cities this week to present "The Walworth Farce," a twisted take on family life.
In the play, three Irishmen living in London perform a drama in their apartment every morning. The play-within-a-play is based on the characters' own lives and is a comedy with some very dark philosophical overtones.
Two men wearing strange costumes begin performing a play in their living room. It's in a rundown apartment at the top of a London high-rise. They discuss the tragic demise of their late mother who was apparently hit by a dead horse.
"It was God's will to send a massive dead stallion careering over the hedge," says one.
"Yes," his companion replies.
"God's will to send it crashing down on top of our sweet mother's tiny body as she innocently picked gooseberries for her own consumption on the quiet country road. Whatever way you look at it Paddy, religion's awfully cruel."
"Is that cans of beer over there?" asks Paddy.
This isn't traditional drama. Three actors perform this play within a play. As to why, that's hard to say initially. It's the story of why a family quit Ireland and moved to London. There's Dinny, the playwright who plays himself. There's his son Sean, who plays all the male characters. Finally there's Blake, Dinny's other son who does all the female roles.
There is a great deal of rushing from room to room, switching costumes and bad wigs. As performers, they aren't very good.
"My character is the worst actor in the group, because he is just brutal," said Tadhg Murphy.
Murphy plays Sean, and of course, almost all the other male roles too. Sitting before rehearsal in the Walker Art Center the entire cast is full of jokes and high jinks. Yet they are stumped when asked to describe the play and it's themes in one sentence. Eventually, Michael Glen Murphy, who plays Dinny, has a crack.
"A tight airless family community and telling stories is a way for some people in the play to keep away the truth," Murphy said. "Is that too convoluted?"
Perhaps, but as the play continues it becomes clear Dinny has had Sean and Blake performing his family history daily for 20 years, since they were boys. Also, Dinny has bent the truth, particularly with regard to himself.
"What is it you do again Dinny?" asks Sean, playing Dinny's dimwitted brother Paddy.
"Brain surgery, Paddy," he replies.
"Oh, and to think you were thrown out of school at 15," Paddy says.
"Ireland's a terrible hole and you'll get no argument from me. But I'll say this about it. It gives fools a fighting chance," says Dinny.
"Fair play!" says Paddy.
It's very funny stuff, but cracks begin to appear in Dinny's tale. He's a violent man and he won't tolerate it when his sons mess up. He sucks the air out of the room with his outbursts. He's prevented Sean and Blake from having much contact with the outside. Sean, who buys the family food, begins to wonder about Dinny's descriptions of a dangerous world.
The Walworth Farce's creator, playwright Enda Walsh, said he believes it's not unusual for people to withdraw from society, even in a big city.
"There are many people within our community, of every community in every world, who for whatever reason decide 'You know what, I'm not going to actually interact with that community," Walsh said. "I can't. Or I won't. Or whatever and these are three people who have decided that."
Walsh is recognized as one of the bright young Irish playwrights of the moment. He is often mentioned in the same breath as Martin McDonough, who recently made the indie hit film "In Bruges."
Like McDonough, Walsh has a knack for comic dialogue and dark plot twists. "The Walworth Farce" moves at breakneck speed, going from comedy to horror and back in moments. Walker Art Center performing Arts Curator Phillip Bither said it's an intense journey for the audience.
"I love the way he has structured it so that you are thrown right into the play within the play and you don't really get the layers and how he has structured it till you come out the other side," Bither said.
Audiences tend to get wrapped up in the action, as Mercy Ojelade can attest. She plays a supermarket checkout clerk who unwittingly brings the outside world into the closed community of the apartment - and then gets trapped. She said the play shakes some audience members so much they check up on her after the show.
"People want to know that you're not the character they have just seen, and they want to know you are safe," she said. "I often get people coming up to say 'I just want to hug you.' Alright, but it's a play."
The actors in the Walworth Farce said every community reacts differently to the play. As they bring it to Minneapolis, they are eager to see the Midwestern response.
- All Things Considered, 10/22/2009, 5:47 p.m.