The characters are introduced at a leisurely pace, free from the heavy exposition often found at the start of many plays. We eventually piece together the relationships of Brid (Sheri S. Herren), the beleaguered mother of the career-mind Martin (Aidan O’Hare) and the more troubled younger son Rich (Matthew Keenan). Martin is dating Marta (Elizabeth Jernigan), who moved from Gdansk to Cork eight months ago, and whose snapshots of the town (projected on a screen above the stage) bring us further into the play. Marta works in the barber shop of Moss (Bruce Rauscher), who is eager to pursue a middle-aged romance with Brid.
In addition to the romances, much of the story involves the family’s efforts to help Rich straighten up. While he’s not a bad young man, he’s just a little too prone to drinking, fighting, and making poor decisions such as sneaking into his ex’s house to watch cartoons with his five-year-old son on Saturday morning despite a protective order. When an accidental act of violence has a tragic outcome, we feel sympathy for all concerned.
Like many Irish playwrights, Heylin has an excellent ear for dialogue. The conversations between the characters often say little yet reveal much. The fumbling efforts of Moss to ask Brid for a first date and their subsequent conversations on that evening have a natural feel. And the dialogues between brothers Martin and Rich are full of easily recognized familial affection and antagonism.
Jernigan adds comic energy when Marta discusses her love of colloquial expressions (“OK – two secs,” “thanks a million,” and “I getcha”) and how people either speak to her too slowly with unneeded gestures or too quickly.
In lesser hands this low concept work might falter, but Keegan Theatre gives it a sterling production. The ensemble is noteworthy, especially in Herren and Rauscher’s portrayal of an incipient romance and in Herren’s motherly anguish. Directors Joe Baker and Mark A. Rhea masterfully maintain a realistic and tender tone. A flashback scene where Brid remembers taking her young sons to the beach is poignant in its delicate portrayal of innocence and regret.
Keegan Theatre staged Heylin’s dark comedy Love, Peace & Robbery here (its American premiere) and in New York to considerable acclaim. As entertaining as that work was, Gdirl from Gdansk shows the playwright’s increasing skill as a dramatist. This is an engaging and touching play that theatre lovers should not miss.
Gdirl from Gdansk
by Liam Heylin
directed by Joe Baker and Mark A. Rhea
produced by Keegan Theatre
reviewed by Steven McKnight
Gdirl from Gdansk closes March 7, 2010.
Click here for details, directions and tickets.
GDIRL FROM GDANSK
Celia Wren . The Post