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A CurtainUp Review
Trans-Euro Express

A lot of people think travelling is the answer. They want to go away and see other places, other cultures, other people. And somehow along the way, find themselves. But didn't work like that for me. Each time I went, I felt like I was running away...I was still Anna, you know? Back in the same position I was in before. —Anna <
Trans-Euro Express
Charlie Kevin and Patricia Buckley in Trans-Euro Express
As part of New York City's annual 1st Irish Theater Festival, the U. S. premiere of Gary Duggan's Trans-Euro Express (It opened in Dublin in 2008) galvanizes the Irish Arts Center with an ear-busting rock soundtrack, pulsating multi-media projections and four committed actors. They are on a 90-minute, animated railroad journey from Dublin through Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague, an adventure of drinking, sex, dreams and a desperate hope for fulfillment. At the end, the trip has shifted the directions of all four lives.

Set in Dublin, Ballard (Charlie Kevin) is a depressed, disenchanted wannabe filmmaker who marks time in the pensions department of a Dublin office. His friend, Gram (Roderick Hill), a musician and ten years younger, has just cut a CD, which impresses Ballard but also makes him even more despondent with his own static situation. Ballard complains that Orson Welles and Stephen Spielberg made career history when they were still in their 20's. "Jesus Christ saved all of humanity, died and resurrected by 33. I'm 38. What the fuck have I done? I haven't picked up a camera in nearly a decade. . .I'm knee-deep in middle age and what the fuck have I got to show for myself."

Gram sympathizes, thinking of something to boost his pal's spirits. He asks Ballard if he would like to do a music video for his CD. Ballard jumps at the idea, energized with a plan of filming a soul-searching, inter-rail trip, "looking for love. . .sampling the beer. . .on a shoestring, guerrilla style." He mentions a girl he knows in Amsterdam who can put them up for a couple of days. There is an Irish actress in Berlin they can hire as Gram's video love interest. Though his ideas actually sound second-hand, Ballard is inspired for the first time in years.

Gram, while skeptical, agrees and the journey begins. It does not go as smoothly as Ballard envisioned. His only film equipment is a Handycam, they get lost in the rain in Amsterdam, and he admits he has not been in real contact with the girl, Fleur (Patricia Buckley), for a year. When they find her, she is pregnant, settled down,and not interested in partying with them. Ballard compares her satisfied life against his own, a remorse that increases through the show, but the two Irishmen resume their journey, taking on steam with sex, drugs, and beer in nighttime Amsterdam.

As they continue traveling, usually hung over and exhausted, Ballard and Gram reveal personal stories of lost loves and the genesis of Ballard's ambition of filmmaking. They meet Ballard's actress friend, Anna (Katy Wright-Mead) in Berlin. Like Fleur, she has also matured and while she still reveals bizarre anecdotes, she is dedicated to an acting career and dismissive of Ballard's desultory filming but joins their venture.

In Prague, Ballard spots a former university classmate who has won a prestigious film festival award, a jolting circumstance that precipitates dramatic change for Ballard. Drinking more now, his mood gets darker. At the same time, he sees that Gram and Anna growing closer, their chemistry convincing. Finally, the three collide in a tumbling collision of drunken anger and frustration. At the end, each character emerges with a different possibility for the future.

Charlie Kevin is convincing as Ballard, a self-pitying, whining failure until he decides to drastically change his life. As irritating as he could be, Kevin realizes the humanity in Ballard. Roderick Hill portrays a believable Gram, engaging, supportive and compassionate. Buckley's Fleur displays an honest characterization and Anna, through Wright-Mead's quirky appeal, is an amalgam of free-spirit and a firm goal. Directed by Chris Henry, despite often tiresome drunken buddy-film antics and rambling, the play is persuasive with its sharp dialogue laced with black humor and human yearnings.

The effective set by Paul Smithyman is bare with two movable screens for David Bengali's projections and changes of locales. Jeanne Wu's sound projection of rock music adds to the contemporary, sometimes manic drive of the production.

Trans-Euro Express
Book by Gary Duggan
Directed by Chris Henry

Cast: Roderick Hill, Patricial Buckley, Katy Wright Mead, Charlie Kevin
Set Design: Paul Smithyman
Costume Design: Lena Sands
Lights and Projection: David Bengali
Sound Design: Jeanne Wu
Fight Choreography by Ron Piretti
Running Time: 90 minutes
Donaghy Theatre at the Irish Arts Center, New York, 553 West 51st St. between 10th and 11th Avenues.
Tickets: $27. Members $23. (212) 868-4444
Performances: Wednesday-Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM; Sunday at 7 PM. October 3 performance is at 3 PM.
From 9/15/10.. Opens 9/ 19/10. Closes 10/3/10.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 9/18/10
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