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A CurtainUp Review
the town without laughter
By Elyse Sommer
Bailegangaire, pronounced Balya-gon-goyra, is Gaelic for The Town Without Laughter -- and it's a laughing contest which is a metaphor for misfortune that's the hub of the story Mommo (Pauline Flanagan), a senile old woman, begins over and over again but never completes. To her granddaughter and current caretaker Mary (Terry Donnelly) getting Mommo to complete her never ending story will enable her "family of strangers". another chance at happiness.
The time is 1984 and while the program doesn't give a date span for the play's action, it probably doesn't cover more than a day or two. Action may be the wrong word, for this is a slow-moving and difficult play as indicated by the unusually large number of people who, on the night I was there, opted not to return after the intermission. Those who stay the course of the snail-paced first act will find that it does build to a more theatrical and satisfying second act Yet, I'll admit that, having looked forward to seeing one of Ireland's most respected contemporary playwrights at the Irish Rep to direct his own work and with Pauline Flanagan in the lead as she was at the Abbey Theatre (she also won an Olivier for Dolly West's Kitchen), I was not as enthralled with this production as I anticipated. The emotion stirring fireworks of the second act never quite overcome the frustrating first hour.
That's not to say that you won't see some wonderful performances. Pauline Flanagan plays the old woman with uncanny daftness. Terry Donnelly, one of the Irish Rep's most consistently satisfying actresses, who only recently took over as Mary from the previously scheduled Pamela Payton Wright, is just fine. She fully captures the pain of a middle-aged woman whose escape from this unhappy place has failed to bring her econtentment, and who is now trapped in the role of an unappreciated and , in fact, disdained caretaker whose relationship with her sister is fraught with hostility. Babo Harrison is convincingly sluttish as the motor-cycle riding Dolly who escaped her grandmother's house only to find herself trapped as the wife of a man who seems to return from his job in England only often enough to impregnate her or beat her up.
As usual at this theater, the production values are simple but effective. The room that serves as Mammo's bedroom as well as the kitchen-living room evokes a typical Irish thatched house and the old family photos projected on the wall make for a more easily seen alternative to smaller, framed pictures. The rat-tat-tat of Dolly's motor cycle and other passing cars are just enough to suggest a more industrial but not necessarily happier life outside Momma's house.
Once you stop trying to understand every word of Mommo's endlessly repeated story, it becomes easy to comprehend the difficulties and secrets that bind the grandmother and the two younger women together. The trouble is that Murphy has been so influential on other playwrights that a play like Bailegangaire now comes of as being in the shadow of the playwrights who are indebted to him -- most notably Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane (our review) which resonated with American audiences as Bailegangaire probably won't.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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