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A CurtainUp Review
The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal
By Elyse Sommer
The Irish Rep's many fans know that they won't be disappointed to expect top quality Irish and Irish-American works, whether at the company's main space or at their W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre where The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal is currently playing.
Even seeing a show in the main theater is much more intimate than any one further uptown (a delightful plus as proved by the current revival of Finian's Rainbow). Since the Studio Theatre seats less than 100 people, it makes for an even more up close and personal experience. That also means casts are going to be small and production elements very basic. In short, the play on offer relies on the words and the actors delivering them rather than a lot of scenery or costumes.
The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal is true to form with its cast. — four actors, one of whom appears only briefly. What's unexpected is that director Alan Cox (familiar to most of us as an excellent actor) has mounted this play written by and co-starring Laoisa Sexton with drop dead production values. Charlie Corcoran's intricately detailed abandoned trailer park setting spills out into the entire theater. It's further enrichedd by costumer Martha Hally, lighting and sound designers Michael O'Connor and Ryan Rumery.
Naturally, a set is only as good as the story that plays out on it. And The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates something wild and wooly that's aptly tagged on the program cover as "A Modern Fairy Tale." That said, this comic romp, like all good comedies, also has more serious underpinnings.
As a set is only as good as the story for which it was designed, so it takes actors able to get inside their characters to make that story soar to vivid and believable life. Bingo again! Cox has elicited powerful performances from his actors.
John Keating, who's done outstanding work at the Irish Rep and elsewhere, is a truly riveting Pigeon. The playwright, wearing her second hat as Friday/Lolly, matches Keating's mastery of non-verbal as well as verbal expression. Her final scene with Keating is wonderfully touching. Zoë Watkins is hilariously over the top as the Aunty who also identifies herself as Chrystal Chandelier. Though Josie, Friday's fiance, is more talked about than on scene, Johnny Hopkins does get to make the most of the shift in mood from pumped up raunchy fun to ominously fearful and an eerie follow-up.
In a way, a trailer park on the outskirts of Cork and Limerick after India's grand Taj Mahal isn't just a case of overblown advertising but a tip of the hat to the lingering memories of fairy stories in Irish history. As the grungy, poorly maintained trailer that dominates the tiny stage immediately makes clear, home on wheels parks like the Taj Mahal have become abandoned wastelands.
The only reason this leftover unit is now occupied is because some upscale builders hope to have the nearby towns' embrace of modernity extend to this desolate area. Consequently, Pigeon has been allowed to make it his home in exchange of keeping an eye on the construction site of their very slowly progressing "leisureplex."
The simple-minded outlier who still believes in the power of fairies has added his helter-skelter life's paraphernalia to the dingy furnishings and outdated appliances of that trailer. But his mother's beloved Elvis Presley pictures and records won't bring her back. Nor will his seven-mile walks to the grocery run by a woman he'd like to befriend lead to anything as long as he's too shy to ask for more than one of her ham sandwiches. Elvis's "Home Is where the Hear Is" sums up his emotional neediness for somebody to be with and talk to.
That somebody turns out to be his unexpected visitor who, like Pigeon goes by two names—, Lolly and Friday. However, this isn't a fairy tale love story. But what follows her rescue by Pigeon is not without its moving moments. Pigeon's rescue also brings on Lolly's drunken, oversexed Aunty Rosie along with a life-sized doll that's one of the most amusing props you're likely to see on any other New York Stage.
As Pigeon represents the people left at the bottom end of the social spectrum, so Lolly/Friday and her Aunty represent those who have succumbed to the downside of modernity — trading the pleasures of a simpler, more natural life style for addictive texting and tweeting, super consumerism, drugging, drinking and partying.
There are times when the activities in Pigeon's Taj Mahal are excessively over the top. You may also miss bits of the fast-paced authentically Irish dialogue. But most of the 90 minutes fly by. However, even when Pigeon's visitors leave it's not really over — that's because you'll find yourself thinking about the Pigeons and Lollies of County Cork for quite a while after the actors take their well-deserved bows.
A caveat for people who have diffiulty navigating stairs: While the Irish Rep's main floor renovations were complete in time for their revival of Finian's Rainbow, the elevator to the downstairs Studio Theatre is still being modernized. That means no elevator access but 16 steps down to get there and up again to exit.
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The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal by Laoisa Sexton,
Directed by Alan Cox
Cast: Laoisa Sexton (Lolly/Friday), John Keating (Eddie the Pigeon), Johnny Hopkins (Josie), Zoë Watkins (Chrystal Chandelier/Aunty Rosie)
Scenic design: Charlie Corcoran
Lighting design: Michael O'Connor
Costume design: Martha Hally
Dound design and original music: Ryan Rumery
Props: Sven Henry Nelson
Stage Manager: April Ann Kline Running Time: 90 minutes
Irish Repertory Theatre, W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre
$50, General Seating
From 11/16/16; opening 11/27/16; closing 12/31/16
General Seating Reviewed by Elyse Sommer November 23rd
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