and relentless deceit
By Jim Lynch
Directed by John Mossman
At The Artistic Home
World premiere play is in the finest Irish Tradition of storytelling
Since I was visiting with friends in the lobby before the opening night performance of The Tallest Man at The Artistic Home, I was unable to read the press notes. When the play finished, I thought it was an old Irish play written in the early 20th Century similar to the works of Sean O’ Casey or John Millington Synge. I was pleasantly surprised to meet the playwright, Jim Lynch – a Chicago lawyer who has just finished The Tallest Man- now in a world premiere production.
This engagingly funny and poignant work is a refreshing traditional Irish comedy. It is a tightly written and polished work by Jim Lynch that reflects the sharp eye of director John Mossman and the efforts of the creative folks at The Artistic Home who have invested two years assisting Lynch in the play’s development. The result is a most entertaining and sophisticated work about the raw rural poor inhabitants of the West of Ireland – a rocky, windswept place of rough hewn.
Set in 1895, a few years after the Irish Famine, The Tallest Man is a wildly hilarious celebration of the determination and resilience of the 19th Century Irish. Lynch’s fine play vividly deals with perseverance, prejudice, superstition and the blind faith of ignorant rural Irish. Lynch grew up hearing tales of Irish fantasy from relatives steeped in storytelling. That influence allowed him to create a fascinating new Irish play.
We meet the hardscrabble survivors in County Mayo. Tommy Joe Lally (Frank Nall) and his partner in sloth, Johnny Mulligan (Bill Boehler) are imbibing at Katie Kennedy’s (Marta Evans) pub telling ghost stories featuring the scary ‘Tallest Man’ myth. The play draws from very real problems of the time – land ownership by the Irish, famine, and unemployment. Inspired from Irish folk tales, The Tallest Man is a story about the young, dreamers led by a high-spirited tinker, Finbar McDonough (the terrific Shane Kenyon) who dreams of marrying Katie Kennedy and immigrating to New York in search of love and opportunity. Finbar is struggling to stay ahead of the English landlords who love to evict non-paying Irish tenants.
Finbar’s cousin and pal, Frankie Walsh (nice work by Nick Horst) is still bitter from his father’s death and the eviction from the Walsh’s land. Owning land by the Irish is a mark of status and eviction is a mark of shame. When Frankie gets proof that Father McLaughlin (Malcolm Callan) is getting kickbacks for aiding the English landlords in reacquiring land, his rage leads to a series of violent confrontations. The play has unique surprises cleverly presented that resolves the play in a uplifting manner. Finbar wants his lover yet he needs to help his cousin, Frankie confront the corrupt priest so he devises a play with the help of the Tallest Man.
The Tallest Man is a marvel of ensemble acting featuring authentic Irish brogues, smart comedic timing and expert character development by the cast. Frank Nall and Bill Boehler are the comic drunks while Marta Evans is the zesty, determined barkeep bent on getting both her man and exiting Ireland for New York. Malcolm Callan and Eamonn McDonagh are the delicious villains while Darrelyn Marx and Miranda Zola are the angst-ridden older women. But the two most impressive performers, each embodying struggles of youthful Irish, were played with heart by Nick Horst and Shane Kenyon.
The Tallest Man establishes Jim Lynch as an authentic Irish playwright and it enhances The Artistic Home as a nurturing place for developing new plays. Congratulations to both for creating such a wonderful comedy! The Irish tradition of storytelling is alive and well here in Chicago in the work of Jim Lynch aided by the craftsmen at The Artistic Home.
At The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, call 866-811-4111, tickets $25 – $27, Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 5 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.