By Mark Doherty
Directed by Linda Murray
Produced by Solas Nua
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Trad (short for “tradition,” one of its overarching themes) is a brilliant Irish stew of surreal comedy, touching drama, clever satire, and thoughtful allegory. Solas Nua presents a professional and charming production of Mark Doherty’s award-winning play.
The story arises out of a one-armed hundred-year-old man’s disclosure to his one-legged father that he may have fathered a child in a drunken one night stand. His “Da,” previously despondent over the likely end of the family bloodline, is energized enough to demand his wooden leg and drag his son off on an epic quest to find the truth.
Most of the play revolves around the relationship of the two men as illustrated through wonderfully comic dialogue in the style of Samuel Beckett. (One can imagine Beckett writing much of this work if instead of “Waiting for Godot” his characters had actually gone out searching for him.)
Chris Davenport has the showier of the two roles as Da and he makes the most of the part, exuding comic energy as a charismatic family story teller. Matching him at every verbal volley is Michael John Casey as the Son, a more introverted and conflicted character still worrying about his Da’s approval. Together they make a terrific pair.
Trad works on multiple levels. The drama of the father-son relationship is nicely drawn and builds throughout the evening. Beneath the comic retorts is a familiar rapport based upon the history and types of stories that often bind generations of family. During the course of the evening, a variety of topics are raised, such as the virtues that define being Irish, the value of faith and religion, and, of course, the importance of tradition. At one point the son has an explosive break from the familiar conversational rhythms and challengers his father. “Is that what tradition it? Everyone standing still and facing backwards?”
You may leave the theatre pondering the extent to which Da is representative of old Ireland, whether the author is more celebrating or mocking tradition, and a host of other drama thesis topics. On a personal level, you may also be reminded of your own family history and the stories that bind you to your relatives. During the performance, though, you will be captivated by the work, including an ending that is achingly beautiful.
Trad has received such acclaim since its 2004 debut it is surprising that one of the larger local theatre companies did not snap it up first, but one can be glad that the first area production came from Solas Nua. This Irish company has a special feel and sensitivity for the work, and the impact of the play is enhanced by a production in such an intimate space.
Under the sure direction of Linda Murray, Trad achieves a near perfect balance of tone and action. The gently surreal story is kept on an even level, the accents are authentic and understandable while perhaps a tad exaggerated for maximum comic effect, and the staging makes optimal use of the space. The well-designed lighting includes the use of a full moon and a nice dream sequence. The costume design includes tweedy clothes that fit the leading characters as well as an authentic-looking priest’s outfit.
Other contributors include Stephanie Roswell with entertaining comic turns as Sal and Father Rice, who also musically assists the talented Jonathan Watkins. Mr. Watkins helps set the atmosphere for the audience with a pre-play performance and his guitar also complements he mood of the story during the performance. Given the value of background music in cinema, it is encouraging to see its increasing use by modern playwrights and directors.
Trad is both funny and poignant, and in the hands of Solas Nua, a small theatrical gem. If you make time to see it, you will remember it long after leaving the theatre.
Running Time: 1:15 (no intermission)
When: Thursdays through Sundays until Feb. 17, 2008
Where: Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 915 H Street NW
Info: Call 1-800-494-TIXS or consult the website.