Posted by: strugglesome | May 22, 2012

Tears of a Clown: Inis Nua’s The Walworth Farce

There is a commonly held theory that tragedy is that which happens to ones self, and comedy is watching that same thing happening to other people. And of course, as farce teaches us, both of them rely largely on scale. It’s tragic when I cut myself by accident. It’s hilarious when YOU fall down a flight of stairs. But what the both rely on, more than anything else, are consequences. The consequences of comedy are minimal, if any. The consequences of tragedy are horrific. This is why we can chortle at a Punch and Judy show, an arguably violent display of spousal and child abuse, because we know it’s all okay in the end, Punch is fine, Judy and the baby are miraculously restored, and no one has to learn anything about anyone. Comedy lives in repetition, while tragedy is about drawing attention to one single event. But can a tragedy exist that is actually about the pain of a repeated action, the deep sorrow within the sameness of our lives? Of course it can, that’s what most modern drama is actually about. But can a tragedy be funny? Well, sort of. But less funny haha, more funny like I want to kill myself.

And that’s the line that Inis Nua walks with The Walworth Farce, by Enda Walsh, directed by artistic director Tom Reing. Is it a comedy with tragic undertones or a tragedy with funny moments? Is it really a farce at all? It certainly uses outlandish situations and extravagant plot twists, colorful characters and wordplay aplenty. But the subject matter, a macabre performance of a fake story repeatedly crafted by a delusional and controlling father and perpetuated by his xenophobic and tortured sons, really shouldn’t be funny at all. Or maybe it should. After all, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

Like any good farce, the plot is laughably complicated. Dinny (Bill Van Horn) is the benevolent patriarch, an Irishman living in England with his two sons. And how do they spend their time, these strangers in a strange land? Well, they daily re-enact the story of their wily Papa’s final day in the Emerald Isle, an Irish wake of epic disaster. With roasted chicken and sandwiches (never mind HOW these three people who clearly have no source of income can afford the daily trip to the Primark) the boys, Sean (Jake Blouch) and Blake (Harry Smith) play every role, while Dinny glories in just having to be himself. Or is a performance of self? One never knows with farce. Whatever it is, Dinny’s the one who wins the family acting award day after day, which isn’t really fair, after all , Blake has to play all the ladies but Dinny’s role isn’t much of a stretch.Still, it’s Dinny’s world, and the rest of them just live in it. So obedient sons Blake and Sean play their roles and support their father’s starring performance, though one of them (Blake) is rather more comfortable with this imitation of life then the other. For Sean, this place is a prison, and his grocery-store pilgrimages to fetch the supplies necessary to enact this macabre story are a source of fear, but also excitement and adventure. After all, he is the only one of this sad family who is permitted, indeed, forced, to interact with the outside world. The others sit cloistered in their self-appointed prison, afraid of the world and the people it contains.

Into this deeply disturbed little spectacle wanders Hayley (Lesley Holden), a supermarket worker whose brief connection with Sean has lead her up the 14 floors of their walk up on Walworth Street (and people say New York is bad) and into the twisted tale these three weave daily like the Fates. But this apartment might as be a black hole , and Hayley soon realizes that this is no normal family, and she has jumped into their spider’s web with both feet. For there are dark secrets in this farce, and the longer we stay in this apartment with this tortured people, the more we realize that this rivals the Hotel California for creepiness, and for inescabability. And so the farce, so oft-repeated, is set off-kilter, setting in motion a series of events that will end this performance forever. Or will they? Old habits die hard, now, don’t they.

Painfully funny (special emphasis on the pain) and upsetting on every level, Walsh’s script combines the sentimental lyrism and melodrama we expect from Irish playwrights and the darkly comic sense of violent irony we’ve come to associate with the writers of that island. Sometimes soppy and overly poetic, but always with its eyes on the prize, this story examines routines and stories, and the way that both of them inform and define our lives. “If you break what I know I’ll have to kill you” one character remarks to another. Our knowledge, our stories, the things we tell ourselves over and over again until they become true, they are the rituals and tales that delineate our identities. Confabulation is the term therapists use for the process of telling oneself self a lie so often that it becomes, in one’s own mind, the truth. And Dinny, in a remarkable and powerful performance from Van Horn, is eager to force his family to collectively confabulate by sheer will alone. And with Blake (a stunning and gripping Smith) he is successful, but for Sean (a very intense but sweetly desperate , who is great in all except his final decision of the play) repetition cannot erase what he knows to be true.And Holden’s Hayley, who spends most of the play sobbing, is still moving as the only normal human (albeit a rather chatty and nosy one) in a room full of insanity.

Beautifully directed by Reing with neat pacing and mostly solid staging, this piece harmonizes environment with text. Meghan Jones’ perfectly appropriate set design gives us a cramped London apartment in complete and utter disarray, falling apart at the seams (one wonders why these people have yet to be evicted but then again, normal logic clearly doesn’t apply here). Andrew Cowles lighting is nicely grimy and illuminates the stage with stagnant yellow tones. Maggie Baker’s costume design is excellent, grubby and gently un-American but functional and versatile (which of course it must be when three people play 10 characters). And Nick Kourtides’ sound is unobtrusive and unessential, but nice, nonetheless.

It wouldn’t be sporting to tell you how it all ends.And though it’s an Irish playwright, we should still abide by Cricket rules. So I wont tell you of the play’s inevitable and yet still deeply painful conclusion. But I will say that this performance is as funny as it is upsetting, and ever-so-human as it makes us wish for impossible things, while acknowledging sadly that our hopes were probably foolish from the start. But what is a farce without fools, eh?

Inis Nua’s The Walworth Farce will be running from now until the 27th of May. Tickets are available here.

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