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A CurtainUp Review
The Walworth Farce

Lively game was it?
A bit messy in here.
Is it just the three of you?
Your brother and dad and you.
No mother.
Denis Conway
(Photo: Pavel Antonov)
If there were a prize for creating the most dysfunctional family ever presented on stage Enda Walsh would undoubtedly win it. The Walworth Farce makes the work of O'Neill, Williams and McDonagh look like Father Knows Best or I Remember Mama.

The Walworth Farce is a play within a play, or a farce within a melodrama or a melodrama within a drama. If it defies classification, It also defies comprehension. But for what it's worth, it goes something like this.

Three men live in a council flat on Walworth Road in London: Dinny (Denis Conway) and his two sons, Blake (Garrett Lombard) and Sean (Tadhg Murphy). (Sabine Dargent's set comprises three spaces: a living room, a bedroom and a kitchen, separated by walls from which most of the plasterboard has been removed, leaving nothing more than the beams. Father and sons came to London from Cork many years ago under circumstances that are not immediately explained but were certainly traumatic.

The three men engage endlessly and obsessively in performing a ritualized play that seems to be a reenactment of this original trauma. When someone (usually Sean) does something wrong that disrupts the play, Dinny becomes furious and violent. He pummels and spits on the offender. He rubs his bald head with some kind of pomade as if to soothe his exploding brain.

The play the men perform has a complicated plot that involves a dead mother, an inheritance, a brain surgeon and his wife, younger brother and two sons, and lots of greedy people. Sometimes it is quite funny, especially as Lombard plays all the female parts like an accomplished drag queen with a gun in her back. This goes on pretty much for the entire first act.

Reality mixes freely with the fantasy. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is which. That's probably exactly what Walsh intended which is fine for the first five, ten. . .okay, fifteen minutes. But after a while some people may feel like screaming, "Okay I get it. So what is this all about anyway?" Then, mercifully, the doorbell rings, and when the men reluctantly open the door they find standing there a young black girl who turns out to be Hayley (Mercy Ojelade), a cashier whom Sean has been talking to at the local grocery store. She has come to bring Sean the grocery bag he left behind when he picked up the wrong one earlier in the day.

Does Hayley's arrival end the men's obsessive playacting? Not at all. They send her off to the kitchen and continue, intermittently trying to figure out what to do with the terrified young lady. Whatever happens, it's a sure thing it won't be pretty. And indeed it isn't.

The Walworth Farce is a veritable tour-de-force for the three men. The rapid paced dialogue, the quick role changes, the physical comedy and occasional violence are challenging both physically and mentally. Ojelade, who plays Hayley as a cheerful, kind and innocent soul, is perfect as the only sane person in the mental hospital. With all the antics onstage, director Mikel Murfi keeps a steady hand.

It may be that for those familiar with Irish stereotypes there is something innately funny or tragic in these characters. But for the uninitiated, it's hard to understand why anyone should care about a bunch of lunatics whose insanity is only partly explained. Even when we find out what the primal crime was, we never know why the boys have never been able to escape, how they manage to live when no one seems to be earning money, why their mother never came after them, and why the neighbors haven't complained about all the noise.

Then again, perhaps this is all metaphorical. Walsh is really writing about something larger than this family. But what? The human condition? The blurring of fantasy and reality? The internal and eternal struggles of the Irish people?

DRUID thought enough of Walsh to commission The Walworth Farce. It was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe, where it won the Fringe First Award. It has been acclaimed by critics at prestigious newspapers, but the praise doesn't necessarily indicate whether they understood what was going on.

People who like playing guessing games with playwrights may find The Walworth Farce fascinating. They may get a wonderful warm glow when they think they have figured it all out. Others may decide that trying to find some light in Walsh's obtuse self-indulgence is not worth the trouble.

For a review of bedbound, also by Enda Walsh go here.

By Enda Walsh
Directed by Mikel Murfi

Cast: Denis Conway (Dinny), Garrett Lombard (Blake), Tadhg Murphy (Sean), Mercy Ojelade (Hayley)
Set Design: Mikel Murfi
Lighting Design: Paul Keogen
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Presented by DRUID Theatre Company of Galway
St. Ann's Warehouse, 38 Water Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn (718) 254-8779
From 4/15/08 to 5/4//08
Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday matinees at 2pm and Sundays at 4pm
Tickets: April 15-20: $37.50, April 22-May 4: $47.50
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 17, 2008

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