Coolatully hits every single trope of a modern Irish story with an impeccable, though taciturn exactitude. Solas Nua is “the only organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to contemporary Irish work,” but here “contemporary” falls short of the “new light” they take their name from.
Killian (David Mavricos) used to be happy and beloved, but his fortunes are tied to his rural hometown, Coolatully. The Global Recession decimated the town and many like it, as a whole generation emigrates to Canada, Australia, or New Zealand for work, or settles with moving to Dublin. Killian whiles away his days debating his own emigration, struggling over whether to follow his love Eilish (Jenny Donovan) (the prettiest girl in the county, the only girl in the county) to Sydney or stay behind to help his mam mind the failing bar and see old Jimmy Barrett (Brian Hemminsen) on his way through his twilight years. But Coolatully can’t field a hurling team anymore, and even the post office is shutting down. And here comes Killian’s friend Paudie (Kiernan McGowan), just finishing a brief prison sentence, and rooting for Killian to get off the dole and get on with life.
The story is formulaic to an extreme, and it is difficult not to predict what happens in its hour, 45 minutes as soon as the action begins. After a minute getting an ear for the rural Irish accent, Fiona Doyle’s script flows like tap water. Bittersweet stories of Irish youths being bored, except for that one funny day, then wasting the rest of their lives come like a leaking faucet, over and over.
Irish writing is often exalted for the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, two titans of avant-garde literature. But strip away an iphone here or a movie reference there and Coolatully feels more conventional than meat and potatoes. It ironically cedes creative ground to Scottish writer Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, a story of poverty in the British Isles more bold, modern, and somehow universal.
The show, it must be said, is technically flawless. Every hair of every beard, every stitch in every one of Robert Croghan’s costumes lends itself to exactly what one expects. The set seems large, with plenty of different areas and lights and pieces of set dressing, but every single part is used. From the dwindling Christmas lights around the bar to the crossed hurling sticks, it all has its place as the show effortlessly moves from home to bar and back. Warm lighting shows just a touch of wear to every single floorboard, especially the two meaningfully loose ones. A better set or lighting rig may never be designed nor built for this exact show.
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closes March 26, 2017
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Similarly, Rex Daugherty’s direction and choreography, the latter assisted by Joseph Carlson, is eerily perfect. The effect is not theatrical at all, but cinematic in a very literal sense. Split focus diopter shots are technically tricky and require a specialized lens in the camera, but you’d know one as soon as you saw it: Half the screen focuses on something in the foreground, while the other have simultaneously focuses in the background. This effect is striking on film, as it, rightly named, splits the audience’s normally singular focus. Daugherty uses the audience’s own eyes and Marianne Meadows again excellent lighting to bring this film technique to stage twice.
Additionally, the audience gets two slow motion, expertly choreographed drinking segments, whose perfectly smooth movements, otherworldly lighting, and just out-of-phase music are almost mechanically precise. But every moment is the equal of this. From lights up, the cast are so polished that it feels like a hologram, a film shot in 1,000 takes and somehow projected in full reality. Except for a suspected couple of moments of Paudie’s (Kiernan McGowan) accent slipping ever so slightly, it felt like it wasn’t live theatre at all!
Ultimately, the play is about taking no risks and takes none. Every performance and design is immaculate, while the script is astoundingly staid. Kiernan’s story ends in an overwhelming nostalgia for his childish, Irish youth of athletic fame, one that can never be returned to. It is perfectly pointless. But, with St. Patrick’s Day coming up, it is the platonic ideal of Ireland on stage, and a short walk from Fadó Irish Pub in Chinatown.
Coolatully. Written by Fiona Doyle. Directed by Rex Daugherty. Performed by David Mavricos, Jenny Donovan, Brian Hemmingsen, and Kiernan McGowan. Choreography by Rex Daugherty and Joseph Carlson. Scenic design by Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Lighting design by Marianne Meadows. Costume design by Robert Croghan. Sound design by Ethan Balis. Produced by Solas Nua. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.