Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Off Broadway: For Love

John Duddy and Laoisa Sexton in FOR LOVE.  Photo by Trevor Murphy.
When Laoisa Sexton’s one act play For Love had its very short-lived world premiere at the 1st Irish Theatre Festival last September, it was named a “Pick of the Festival” by Irish Examiner.  Cahir O’Doherty, reviewing it for Irish Central, called it “the strongest debut by an Irish writer I have ever seen.”  Since I missed that opening (there were only four performances), I was delighted to learn that the play would enjoy a somewhat longer run at Irish Repertory Theatre on West 22nd Street in midtown New York this year (especially since I’m generally enamored of Irish theatre and I’ve long been a fan of the IRT).  And so it was that I went to see a performance of For Love – and on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to boot!  My expectations were high.

Sad to say, I was a wee bit disappointed.  To be sure, the play is well written and well performed.  But that is not enough.  For Love is pointedly described as taking place in modern day Dublin during a period in which “Ireland is experiencing one of the greatest economic downturns in its history,” which led me to believe that I was about to experience something quintessentially Irish (what with it being the Irish Repertory Theatre and an Irish playwright and St. Patrick’s Day and all).  But, in fact, once one cuts through the actors’ brogues and learns the Irish slang and references in the play (the program provides a fine “cheat sheet” for that purpose), there really isn’t anything particularly Irish about the play after all.

Indeed, the tale of three thirty-something, love-deprived, and sexually frustrated women in Dublin – Val (Jo Kinsetta), Tina (Georgina McKevitt), and Bee (Laoisa Sexton, the playwright herself) – could have taken place in New York or Cleveland or almost any other place you might imagine (in good times or in bad), rather than during an economic downturn in Dublin, and nothing would have been lost.  Bee, who had a love child when she was sixteen, is now on the verge of becoming a grandmother herself and is seeking to recapture her lost youth (even if it is with a married man).  Her friend, Val, lacks even the solace of a child; her life has somehow slipped away from her and the likelihood of her ever having a husband and a family of her own (rather than a series of one night stands) seems to diminish daily.  Tina is married but that doesn’t appear to matter; she seems to derive more pleasure from shopping and self-gratification than from her marriage.  And although all three women perform well, there’s nothing particularly Irish about any of it.

The play calls for several male roles as well – Aidan, One Night Stand, Club Guys, Bartender – but the playwright has specified that they all be played by the same actor (in this production, he’s John Duddy) as if to underscore the fungibility of men.  In one or another of those roles, it’s he who interacts with each of the women.

It may be argued that what disappointed me most about the play – what I perceived as mundane and platitudinous events in ordinary lives that take place every day all over the world – was actually the play’s strength.  That is, its depiction of unloved, sexually deprived women in economically depressed Dublin might be viewed as just the symbolic portrayal of a universal condition.  But even if one looks upon it that way, the play still fell short for me: what it still required was a more developed story line that would distinguish the lives of these three women from those of so many others.  Lacking that, we still were left with little more than some good theatrical performances but with no real insights into the lives of the characters on stage.

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