Monday, August 10, 2009

After Luke and When I Was God


By Conál Creedon. Directed by Tim Ruddy. Irish Repertory Theatre. (CLOSED)

There is little consensus on Conál Creedon's two plays about fathers and sons. Critics differ on which of the three actors are most compelling in their roles, which of the two plays is most engaging, and whether Tim Ruddy is an able director. Though critics might not agree on the most successful aspects of the productions, the grades tend to be in the middle range, with nobody completely loving or hating the plays.

The New York Times A
(Rachel Saltz) The director, Tim Ruddy, keeps things simple, aided by Brian Nason’s evocative lighting. The set is minimal: the excellent actors and Mr. Creedon’s words are enough to create a world that is at once comic and dramatic, poetic and brutal. Sometimes the actors speak directly to the audience, telling their stories and making their cases; sometimes they address one another, with certain phrases repeating like refrains in a song. Maneen, we hear more than once, is “bright as a button.” Son has the “brain of a mechanic — the hands of a surgeon.” Together, they’re “chalk and cheese” and “a bag of cats.”

Backstage A-
(David Sheward) The screaming arguments of fathers and sons attempting to love each other are familiar sounds in American drama, from O'Neill and Miller to August Wilson. Cónal Creedon puts a Gaelic spin on this age-old conflict in two one-acts, "After Luke" and "When I Was God," now at Irish Repertory Theatre. Though the premises for both plays are basically the same as dozens of other works, from "Death of a Salesman" to "Fences," director Tim Ruddy's production is full of fresh humor and intense conflict. Played on Lex Liang's nearly bare set, actors Michael Mellamphy, Gary Gregg, and Colin Lane colorfully enact a variety of roles in this pair of earthy, rough-hewn, poetic scripts. Brian Nason's imaginative lighting design provides the necessary changes of scenery.

Associated Press B+
(Jennifer Farrar) "After Luke," ends quietly, rather than serving up the expected bang that seems inevitable from prior events. However, "When I Was God" is satisfyingly action-packed, at times even turbulent. In this touching play, Mellamphy superbly ricochets among three roles, portraying a soccer referee during his last pre-retirement game, the same referee in youth - from age 10 into his teen years - and the ref's mother during his boyhood. You'll not forget the sight of Mellamphy as Mother, comically but forcefully marching around her irascible and wrong-headed husband (Gary Gregg) as they repeatedly argue over the boy's future and safety in sports.

Talkin' Broadway B
(Matthew Murray) Despite a few twists and a dollop or two of suspense, After Luke is little more than a thinly veiled (if advanced) adaptation of the Prodigal Son parable. And though it’s enjoyable on that basis, it’s an obvious, predictable retelling that the actors can’t juice up quite enough. Lane is outstanding as the harried father, but Gregg and Mellamphy don’t plumb many depths in their portrayals of the half-brothers, and neither finds enough comparisons or enough contrasts in the show to fuel their duel from start to (almost) finish. Those two actors fare considerably better in When I Was God, eliciting more unique personalities from a son and father in a different set of circumstances... The way the plays’ two families work, while desperately appearing not to, is the strongest link between them, and one Ruddy doesn’t always efficiently highlight. He overemphasizes After Luke’s tragic undertones and the traditional comedic fillips (repetition, misdirection, absurdity) of When I Was God, when he might attain more unity by applying those qualities to the opposing play. You never get quite the sense you need to of functioning dysfunction in After Luke, or the pain of a fractured family that fuels When I Was God - exactly what’s needed to make each tick the loudest. But at least each play somewhat complements what’s missing in the other. That, combined with the works’ natural humor and easygoing manner, makes for a fine, if never life-changing, evening that’s ideal for anyone who’s ever been - or ever had to deal with - a father or son who saw his stubbornness as his contribution to a crucial, unbreakable bond to the man he loved most.

Time Out New York B-
(David Cote) After Luke, based on the parable of the Prodigal Son, centers on a fractious, widowed clan... Creedon mingles folksy, profane humor and heartache, making for a pungent short story of a play.The second piece, When I Was God, outstays its welcome. Framed as the memories of a retiring soccer referee (Mellamphy), it recalls his monomaniacal father (Gregg), who pushed his son into the fast and dangerous game of hurling. While Gregg commits fully to the role of a grunting, screaming nationalist pig, the sketch grows wearying at nearly an hour. Still, in Creedon’s seriocomic yarn-spinning, there’s robust humor and plenty of rough poetic flourish. Father might know worst, but he can turn a juicy phrase.

TheaterMania C+
(Dan Bacalzo) Both Dadda and Maneen refer to Son as a half-wit, but Gregg avoids stereotype, instead crafting a portrait of a simple man with simple needs who is perhaps just a little out of step with the pace of those around him. When Son is riled, however, the actor gives his portrayal a dangerous edge, as Son is willing to fight to keep what's his. Neither of the other actors are able to achieve as much depth in their roles. Lane captures Dadda's exasperation in regards to his boys' constant bickering, but doesn't display much beyond that, while Mellamphy pushes too hard, indicating his intentions in a broad, nearly caricatured fashion. Mellamphy approaches his role in When I Was God similarly, although it comes across even worse as much of the play requires him to annoyingly pretend like he's 10 years old. In the piece, Dino (Mellamphy) is retiring from his position as a referee, and remembering his childhood spent with his father (Gregg), who was obsessed with his son succeeding in sports -- and particularly the game of hurling (an Irish sport similar to field hockey), which resulted in some severe injuries for the boy. Gregg has an authoritative presence, and it's easy to see why Dino was intimidated by his father, who seems to have left the boy with emotional scars to match his physical ones. Even when the playwright reduces him to grunting out responses, Gregg fully inhabits his role, commanding every second he has on stage.

CurtainUp C+
(Simon Saltzman) While both plays are inhabited by compassionately evinced sad and funny characters, they seem to be hampered by the dictates of a short story rather than by the very dissimilar needs of a play. While Creedon's characters are a rich source of enlivening everyday Irish vernacular, they are also placed in positions and postures (literally) to deliver substantial doses of exposition (spoken directly to the audience), an occasionally useful device that nevertheless often keeps potential confrontations and interactions at bay. Despite some fine performances by the three actors, two of whom appear in both plays, the stolid, visually exasperating staging/direction by Tim Ruddy (more about that later) only helps to outline and intensify the apparently prescribed limitations of both plays... Even considering the play's often blistering narrative thrust, it is hard to fathom or condone director Ruddy decision to keep the actors positioned for long periods of time in a framed triangle, each facing front, occasionally even standing behind a pillar, completely blocking the view of the part of the audience that sits on the side of the stage.

New York Post D-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Creedon has written a lot of radio dramas, which isn't much of a surprise: The shows here are all talk. Tim Ruddy's barely-there direction doesn't do much to enliven the fluid if totally predictable prose, and you won't miss much if you close your eyes for extended periods of time. Ruddy doesn't extract enough nuance from his cast, either. Lane runs down a narrow gamut of expressions ranging from glowering to befuddled in the first show. Mellamphy gives the same puppyish tics to his two characters. His rendition of an umpire's behavior during a match is so static that you have to wonder if he or Ruddy has ever seen a soccer game. That passivity is typical of the production as a whole: It just stands there, seemingly unsure of where to go, what to do.

The New York Times A 13; Backstage A- 12; AP B+ 11; Talkin' Broadway B 10; TONY B- 9; TheaterMania C+ 8; CurtainUp C+ 8; New York Post D- 3; TOTAL: 74/8 = 9.25 (B-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw this show on the basis of a great review (critics pick) in the NY Times,which I noticed you have left out. It's a great show and thought that because of that review you might want to bump the overall grade up a bit.