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A CurtainUp Review
Why this unflagging devotion to Walsh's work? Perhaps because the Dublin-born playwright has been steadily churning out provocative theater material that ensures theatergoers an intellectual adventure as well as a good time. While Walsh is best-known for writing the Tony award-winning book for the musical Once, it's his ever-growing body of avant-garde theater work that makes him a mover-and-shaker to those in the know.
Having just seen a revival of his breakthrough play Disco Pigs, I welcomed the opportunity to see another one of his abusrdist works on a New York stage. And, truth be told, it took less time to plug into the patois of Ballyturk's characters and get pulled into the loop of this topsy-turvy narrative.
What unfolds is a dark comedy that revolves around two eccentric adults (the nameless characters One and Two) living in a large windowless room and creating a world (that would be Ballyturk) out of their own vivid imaginations— until another character (the numerically-correct Three) arrives and shatters their fantasy world with an ultimatum.
According to Walsh, he wrote Ballyturk as a creative response to two real-life events: The first, his then 6 year-old daughter's question on whether everyone dies; the second, his own observation during a rehearsal of how an actor and a stage-hand (fixing a table leg) can be in the same physical space but have their minds miles apart.
Curiously, Ballyturk became much more than a meditation on death or theater. It blossomed into an existential drama about friendship and all the personal sacrifices, large and small, that it can demand from an individual.
It is amazing to see Mikel Murfi do his frenetic comedy routines on stage, while infusing a genuine humanity into character Two, the older and more cautious friend. Equally mesmerizing is Tadhg Murphy, whose physical agility and sensitive acting as Character One terrifically complements Murfi's. Perhaps the best illustration of their synergistic—and turbo-charged acting is when Murphy spews out the names of 17 denizens from the imaginary town of Ballyturk, as Murfi vivifies them in a lightning-fast dumb show.
In a gender-blind casting of character Three, the avant-garde actress Olwen Fouere delivers a commanding performance as the intruder. Indeed, Fouere enters and exits the play like a force of nature, exuding supernatural calm and savoir faire.
Jamie Vartan's set, Adam Silverman's lighting, and Helen Atkinson's sound effects all combine to create a surreal atmosphere. Don't be surprised when you see a cuckoo clock suddenly catch fire or the stage's back wall suddenly collapse to reveal a gorgeous natural vista.
A number of critics have seen traces of Sartre's No Exit and Beckett's Waiting for Godot in Ballyturk. In an interview in The Irish Times (September 3rd, 2017), in fact, Walsh described his theater-making as a mixed soup of Tom Murphy, Samuel Beckett, and Sean O'Casey.
Ballyturk at St. Ann's might just convert you into a Walsh fan.
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Written and directed by Enda Walsh
Cast: Tadhg Murphy (One), Mikel Murfi (Two), Olwen Fouere (Three).
Sets: Jamie Vartan
Composer: Teho Teardo
Sound: Helen Atkinson
Lighting: Adam Silverman
Stage Manager: Eamonn Fox
ST. Ann's Warehouse, 45 Water Street, DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. Tickets: $41-$51. For more information, phone 718-254-8779 or visit online www.stannswarehouse.org.
From 1/09/18; closing 1/28/18.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Saturday matinee @ 3pm; Sunday @ 5pm.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/12/18
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