- by Owen McCafferty
- Produced by Keegan Theatre New Island Project
- Directed by Eric Lucas and Kerry Waters Lucas
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Ireland’s recent successes – it is among the most prosperous nations in Europe, now, and there is peace in the Occupied Counties for the first time in more than a generation – may prove a curse to a particularly glorious class of Irishmen: Irish playwrights.
In two of his plays previously produced in Washington – Scenes from the Big Picture and the glorious Mojo Mickybo – Owen McCafferty used Belfast’s Troubles, financial and paramilitary both, to illuminate the tragedies overtaking his characters. In this play, made so up-to-the-minute that the characters refer to the cyclone in Myanmar earlier this month, none of the principal characters has anyone to blame for his troubles except himself.
It lowers the stakes, makes the characters less attractive and, in spite of Keegan/New Island’s best efforts, diminishes the tension.
Robbie (Bruce Rauscher) and his wife Vera (Kerry Waters Lucas) run a pub and hotel on the verge of extinction. Vera’s lover Iggy (Eric Lucas) is staying at the hotel, as is Joe (Ian LeValley), an old friend who abandoned his house as soon as his wife left. Periodically, Alec (Mark Rhea), a middle-aged man who appears to have suffered organic brain damage when he was shot years ago, drops by to do some manual labor. He may be a pyromaniac. There is also a cat. Everyone drinks a good deal except, possibly, the cat.
Robbie’s solution to his bar’s great problems is to secure a loan which will permit him to install storefront windows. Robbie’s scheme is handicapped somewhat by the fact that his architectural plans were drawn by a kitchen designer, while drunk. Also, by the fact that Robbie is drunk, as is everyone else, notwithstanding that it is still morning. Indeed, the characters seem to have taken their cue from the Chumbawamba song: they take a whiskey drink, and a vodka drink, and a lager drink, and a cider drink. This sort of mix-and-match drinking would be fatal anywhere but in Belfast.
The loan negotiations proceed just about as you might imagine, and Robbie in consequence attempts to engage Joe in a scheme to use Joe’s abandoned home, sitting across the street from the pub, as collateral. Closing Time’s subsequent developments lodge it somewhere between a Eugene O’Neill play and a particularly sharp episode of The Honeymooners.
There are half a dozen inexplicable developments, the most important of which involves Joe’s ultimate response to Robbie’s proposition. I cannot tell you what it is without giving away the climax, but I will tell you it makes neither emotional nor logical sense. I can tell you that Robbie says that he has put his television on permanent mute, but the television broadcasts aloud to us in the audience during scene changes nonetheless. I can tell you that Alec recalls an encounter with the brother of a childhood friend. It is obviously a matter of great emotional content, but do we get a clue what happened? If we do, I missed it. I can tell you that Vera longs to escape with Iggy, but what she sees in the weak-willed, married drunk that would be different from her husband is obscure. I can tell you that Joe’s wife left him, but I do not know why. Nor do I understand why losing his wife motivated Joe to abandon his real estate.
The old pros at New Island give this their best shot, and there are scenes that are a pleasure to watch. LeValley, an actor of immense gifts, gives us a picture of a wrecking ball covered with a sack of flab. On the other end of the spectrum, Lucas shows us a character so weak that cravenness permeates, in McCafferty’s own words (in another context) “every square inch of” him. Rhea gives us a candid, unpatronizing look at a man with disabilities. Raucher’s Robbie is a man with moral disabilities, and he lays them before us in seeming unselfconsciousness. Kerry Lucas’ scathing Vera (veritas is the Latin word for truth), while capable of self-deception, tears the lid off the pretensions of the other characters. Indeed, the scene in which Vera asks the three men to undress her – without finding a taker – is among the most scalding in the play. The big talkers are in fact smothered in fear and impotence.
Were Closing Time nothing more than a character study, McCafferty and New Island would have done justice to the cause. But it is not: McCafferty continues to swing for the fences. Without the backdrop of Irish misery to help him, this time, the mighty playwright has struck out.
- Running Time: 1:50, including one intermission.
- When: Thursdays through Sundays until June 7. Sunday shows are at 3; all other shows are at 8.
- Where: Theatre on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington VA.
- Tickets: $20 ($15 senior and student). Call 703.892.0202×2 or e-mail to [email protected]
- Information: on the website.