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A CurtainUp DC Review
Irish Authors Held Hostage
by Rich See
Over at the Warehouse Theatre, J.T. Burian Theatricals (in association with The Georgetown Theatre Company) is doing an energized and funny send up of Ireland's premiere writers. If you've been following all the Irish theatre that has been happening around town the past couple of seasons, Irish Authors Held Hostage will bring a little fun humor to the fore!
Written by John Morogiello (who is also part of the acting ensemble) the show is a bizarre hybrid of Irish writers, revolutionaries, drug dealers and Texan neoconservatives. The premise is pretty straightforward: take a cadre of Irish writers and then inflict them upon a variety of angry individuals who are demanding attention for their respective causes through violent measures. Note, I say inflict the Irish authors upon their hostage takers. That's because these kidnappers have bitten off more than they realize with this group of renowned social commentators.
In eleven "variations" Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Lady Augusta Gregory Smith, James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Bram Stoker, Emily Bronte, W.B. Yeats, Sean O'Casey and Brendan Behan battle wits with their captors. You may notice that not all those authors are Irish. That's because one of our kidnappers (who include an Islamic extremist, a Basque freedom fighter, a North Korean communist and a Texas conservative) is a bit distressed and over-worked.
The humor in the show is intellectual, yet accessible. Knowing your Irish authors helps, but there are enough physical pratfalls and silly doings to keep everyone amused. In addition, the program provides a handy and entertaining primer on who is who. (At the show I saw, there were children in the audience who were enjoying the Samuel Beckett vignette, although I doubt they got the literary references being tossed about.) A little Carol Burnett Show, a little Saturday Night Live and a dash of vaudeville moves everything along rather nicely and keeps you laughing throughout.
The only rough spot is with the Korean militant portrayal which veered into convenient stereotyping of Asian men. It's doubtful an actor of Asian descent would have chosen the characterization that was given, so Burian Theatricals might want to either change hostage takers or hire a Korean consult to help them develop the character. As its played now, "Korean" looks like he walked out of a Gilligan's Island episode. Which may have been funny and excusable in the 60's, but simply is offensive when played by a Caucasian man utilizing squinty eyes and round eyewear on today's stage. But that little skit is only ten minutes out of the show and a very small part of it, at that.
Basic staging and announcing of each episode harken to the early days of theatre, while an intermittent song interlude is a nice break and the vocals of Lori Boyd and the Celtic musings of musicians Tina Eck and Matt Shortridge are lovely. (The musicians and instruments will be changing each night of the show.)
Within the cast, creator John Morogiello has some wonderful moments as W.B. Yeats. His impression of Oscar Wilde's lust for swarthy Arab captor Achmed (played by Terence Heffernan) is quite funny, the James Joyce babblings are a hoot and his Shavian references are fun -- especially if you have seen the recent Washington Stage Guild production of Fanny's First Play. (Though the beard for the Shaw portrayal gives a Marx Brothers effect with its weak costume shop quality.)
Lori Boyd plays all of the female parts. As angry revolutionary Maud Gonne, she's building bombs while spurning Yeats. As lustful Emily Bronte bouncing about after the swarthy Achmed, she nicely counterbalances the previous Wilde skit right up to the last coughing fit. (For the most part, the show is equal opportunity at poking gentle fun at everyone.) And her Lady Augusta Gregory facing off with the Basque separatist utilizes some good slapstick comedy.
Terence Aselford's despairing Sean O'Casey is great, while his Samuel Beckett brings out the minimalist aspects of the writer's plays in an endearing absurdist manner. As Behan he's a rapscallion drunken writer waiting to meet Achmed at Paradise's gates, quite the joke on the Arab who has his afterlife all planned out.
Terence Heffernan as a variety of captors does a great job as the overworked and confused Achmed. The only recurring hostage taker, his confusion with these nutty writers makes him quite sympathetic. Mr. Heffernan also offers up a haughty capitalist drug warlord that thwarts Shaw and a Basque fighter who is toppled by Lady Gregory, which more than makes up for the stereotyped Korean militant.
All in all, this show is a fun time, filled with current political references and ultimately showing how the Irish -- a people who have a few things in common with the Basques and Islamists -- have moved past a sense of victimization to a sense of empowerment through their literary history and extensive cultural offerings. So I guess the meaning here is art conquers rage when given a chance. Either that or a pint of Guinness takes the edge off and makes it all seem a bit less personal...