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A CurtainUp DC Review
Oh, the Irish. Their way with words and music, doom and gloom — it's all there. Guy is sad because his girlfriend left him. Girl is sad because she is "having issues" with her husband, father of her child.
Being Irish, Guy, played and sung by the very talented actor/guitarist Stuart Ward, is very downhearted. He has no confidence in his music or his lyrics or himself for that matter until he meets Girl, a take-charge Czech transplanted to Dublin for whom music cures all. Dani da Waal, a pianist who can knock out Mendelsohn as easily as an Irish ballad, has Girl under her skin. She is as reticent as Guy to admit love for one another.
Their story is the through line of Once but so is the music coming from the guitars, mandolin, banjo, drums, percussion, harmonica, ukulele, cello, electric bass, violin, accordion and concertina played by only 12 actors — an astonishingly gifted group who remain on stage at all times. Not only do they play well singly and together, but they have a firm grip on Steven Hoggett's movement. Flashbacks to the Irish show Flashdance and simulated clog dancing— harsh sounds as heels dig in hard and fast to any flat surface — are particularly effective. The occasional mime, however, is distracting and seems somewhat out of place.
John Tiffany's direction would be and undoubtedly was, better suited to a smaller stage and smaller venue. Tiffany, deservedly won multiple awards for this show and the memorable Black Watch of a few seasons ago as did Hoggett whose brilliance was evident in Peter and the Starcatcher and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.
For all the sturm und drang (I don't know how you say that in an Irish dialect), Once is not without humor. Stuart Ward's Elvis impersonation is very funny and the jokes about capitalism, Josh Groban and malapropisms by all the Czechs but mostly the not-totally-fluent-in-English Girl. References to the small island of Ireland's disproportionate cultural contributions seem gratuitous as Once proves that point over and over.
Editor's Note: For Curtainup's review of the original production, which includes a song list go here