The great Northern Irish golf pro Rory McIlroy, who drove a golf ball forty yards at the age of two and thereafter slept with a golf club, fingers interlaced so that he could memorize the proper grip, had his marriage proposal to Danish tennis pro Carolyn Wozniacki interrupted when a loud drunk wandered on to their boat. I’m not certain, but that drunk might have been Ross (Josh Sticklin), an in-your-face young man of Belfast who idolizes McIlroy, loves golf but think nothing beats a good riot.
McIlroy is a Roman Catholic and Ross is an outspoken Protestant, but all that is beside the point – which is, for Ross, to turn Descartes on his head and say “I riot, therefore I am”. He wakes up to a riot at the story’s outset, and thereafter rushes to combine his two passions by hitting golf balls from the roof at passing police cars. His grandfather was a rioter, back in the day; his best friend Minter is a rioter (and a drug dealer); the scariest man in the neighborhood, French Davey (so named because he got a liver transplant from a Frenchman) is a rioter; and Ross finds the possibility of romance in a distant vision of a brick-throwing blonde – a “Ninja”, as he sighs romantically.
To Ross, to riot is to live: it is the poetry in a life otherwise as exciting as a telephone directory. Indeed, when talking of rioting he lapses into poetry, as Shakespearian characters break into verse when they speak of love. Rioting, for him, is good for the police – providing high-dollar overtime, and risk pay – and good for tourism: he estimates that half the tourists in Belfast come looking for a riot. During one riot he looks up in amazement to see an apartment window with a television on. There’s a riot down here, he says wonderingly. How could they be watching “EastEnders”? In “The Wild Ones,” James Dean’s character is asked “what are you rebelling against?” “Whadda you got?” he replied. So it is here.
Ross joins a crusade for chaos and entropy because order and stability are deadly to him. There is no work and no decent education; the only dream he can manage is the unlikely one that there will be a day when he stands on the PGA tour next to his idol McIlroy. His sole chance of getting a decent set of clubs is to sweet-talk Val, a woman of size and a minor local bureaucrat. Alas, this is outside Ross’ skill set. He is more the fighter than the lover; his sole success at amour is with Minter’s mom, a cougar of a woman who sells a line of vibrators. Even that is more interruptus than coitus.
Sticklin, who has become a master of the one-actor show – Cuchullain and Basra Boy (both by Midsummer Night’s Riot playwright Rosemary Jenkinson) were his other triumphs – imbues his character with a sort of indomitable brio which allows you to laugh off the most horrifying (and, in some instances, disgusting) incidents. (It will take you about ten minutes to accustom yourself to the dialect and slang.) He gives voice to all the other characters but not in the same way, say, as Jefferson Mays gives voice to the characters in I Am My Own Wife. When Sticklin speaks for Minter, by way of example, it is clearly not in Minter’s own voice but in the voice of Ross doing Minter – exaggerated and somewhat mocking. He thus makes Ross a raconteur, and a bold boy who makes us laugh at danger.
A Midsummer Night’s Riot
Closes June 5, 2014
1742 Church Street, NW
1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission
Details and Tickets
Director Abigail Isaac’s production team co-conspires to project us into the dangerous confines of Belfast city with only Ross for safe conduct; it is a thrilling ride, and a fun one. Of particular note is the spot-on sound work of Dan Deiter, who does projections as well.
The Ulster-born Jenkinson has plowed this territory before, but in A Midsummer Night’s Riot she shows a developing control of her material, and playfulness with it. Her gift for language has never been, in my view, better displayed. Sticklin is an ideal accomplice for these virtues; he creates a high-energy maverick who never takes life, or himself, too seriously…until it becomes serious, deadly serious, in the frame just beyond the last moment of the play. As with other great Irish plays like The Hostage and Mojo Mickybo, everyone has a great time until they realize they are playing hopscotch on the streets of Hell.
A Midsummer Night’s Riot by Rosemary Jenkinson . directed by Abigail Isaacs . featuring Josh Sticklin. Costume design by Kelly Peacock . lighting design by Allan Sean Weeks . Properties Design by Carol Haad Baker . hair and makeup design by Craig Miller . sound design and projections by Dan Deiter . Juliana Parks was the stage manager . Produced by Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
Watch Josh Sticklin transform from Hair to Midsummer Night’s Riot