Directed by Jonathan Berry
At Strawdog Theatre, Chicago
Bittersweet return home from America fuels confessions in a rural Irish pub
Irish playwright Tom Murphy is relatively unknown in America but in Ireland he is a rival to Brian Friel for the title of “Orestes living playwright.” He is best know for his 1961 Whistle In the Dark. Strawdog Theatre, under the swift paced direction by Jonathan Berry, have mounted Murphy’s 1985 Conversations on a Homecoming. Set in a dingy pub outside of Galway, Ireland (realistic set design by Mike Mroch), Conversations on a Homecoming is a wordy, often witty, group of conversations among four 30-somethings Irishmen upon the return from New York of Michael (Adam Soule). He left Galway in search of his dream to be an actor in film and stage in America.
After 10 years, the mystery of why he has returned in blended into the conversations over pints and whiskeys. The four men and one woman – Peggy (Anita Deely). Slowly, in their indirect best Irish manner, the group exchange information about themselves as to what has happened to each over the last 10 years.
Fueled by drink (are the actors actually drinking Guinness on stage as the foam suggests?), Murphy’s naturalistic work slowly weaves each person’s story as each speak to their lost dreams and total disilluminations as each both regrets and alibis for their failures in life. As Michael repeatedly inquires about JJ, he eventually leans that the JFK lookalike is in bad health. We learn how JJ influenced each to chase their dreams.
The conversations reveal how each has moved from the romanticism of the Kennedy-influence 1960’s to the stark reality of mediocrity of the 1970’s. Each must now face what they have become. The players, led by the articulately gripping performance by Michael Dailey as Tom, the disillusioned intellectual turned schoolmaster. He is added by the charm of Adam Souls as the returning actor, Michael. Jeff Duhigg is Junior who laments his life through drink and song while Ed Porter, as Liam, is the educated real estate and somewhat wealthy but regretful soul. With Missus (Janice O ‘Neill) serving drinks and occasionally adding fuel to the conversation with the beautiful and mysterious Anne (Emily Nichelson), this real-time drink fest is 90 minutes of powerful drama, with sprinkles of Irish humor, wit and melancholy.
The players each have their moments as the dense dialogue and the bittersweet arguments permeate. Murphy’s eloquence is impressive and the players play off each other marvelously. You’d be hard pressed to find a better ensemble than the one Jonathan Berry has assembled. The Irish brogues are authentic yet understandable. Lovers of Irish plays will find Tom Murphy’s work engaging and thought provoking. It get us to think about our own lost dreams. It also demonstrates how difficult it can be to go back home after a long absence. After seeing this show, I had a strong urge to stop for a beer but not at the old neighborhood bar from my youth.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 29, 2013
For more info checkout the Conversations on a Homecoming at theatreinchicago.com
At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, call 773-528-9696, www.strawdog.org, tickets $28, Thursdays thry Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through September 28, 2013