The day the story changed. The best show in Seattle right now is an electrifying, must-see production of THE WALWORTH FARCE by Enda Walsh, a co-production between New City Theater and New Century Theatre Company.
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that the original Druid Ireland production of Enda Walsh’s stunning play THE WALWORTH FARCE took the (English-speaking) world by storm. Starting in 2007, it won a coveted Fringe First at Edinburgh. Then in 2008 it toured to New York’s St. Ann’s Warehouse, where it received rave reviews. It moved from there to London’s National Theatre. And then in 2009 (with a change to two of the cast) it began a world tour with stops all over North America, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada.
Anyone who saw the original cast of Denis Conway, Tadgh Murphy, and Garrett Lombard will not soon forget it. The show was directed and essentially co-created (because of its intense physical demands) by Mikel Murfi.
If there’s a downside to catching a Druid world premiere, it’s knowing that you are likely witnessing the best version of the play you’ll ever see – the benchmark against which all future productions will be measured. Especially for Irish plays done outside Ireland, there are so many pitfalls (me Oirish accent!) that can bedevil an effective production. And so it can be a lot harder than it should be to see a top notch version of a contemporary Irish play in the US.
Knowing all this, having seen the original Druid show, and being unfamiliar with the two Seattle theatres involved (New Century Theatre Company and New City Theater), I took a flyer anyway on a production of this modern classic and found my way to a small storefront space on 18th Ave and E Union on a densely socked in October night.
And lo! It was one of those nights in the theatre that you dream about but so rarely find. Inside the 48 seat space on a dark street was a first rate production of this scary, off-putting and verbally magical show. The place was packed with excitement and energy. The actors were exceptional. Director John Kazanjian fully understood and transmitted the play to us. This is the kind of experience you can only get in the live theatre. And we got it.
In the first act of WALWORTH, we discover a family of three in a dilapidated London tower block flat. There’s the manic father Dinny (an outstanding Peter Crook), who sits in a chair waxing his wig, and his two sons Sean (the superb Darragh Kennan) and Blake (the excellent Peter Dylan O’Connor), who appear to be arranging costumes as the curtain rises. Not a whole lot makes sense, and as the action kicks in, we realize things are going to get less clear by the minute. The family is performing its own sad story as theatre to each other, as they do each day and have done presumably for years and will do forever, if left to their own devices.
As the tale goes on we realize that the facts of the story, which concerns the circumstances of why the family left Ireland for London and is heavily controlled by Dinny, are wrong. And yet the sons are unable to break out of this traumatic cycle. Once a day Sean leaves the flat to go to the local Tesco to buy food supplies needed to run the daily script (such as a large chicken to roast), and it is here that he meets a young black checkout girl named Hayley (the spot on Allison Strickland). In his flustered small talk with Hayley, who fancies him, Sean mistakenly leaves his bag of groceries and grabs another, and it is this wrench in the daily routine, and particularly Hayley’s surprise arrival at the door of the family’s nightmarish flat at the end of act 1, that propels the normal course of events off the tracks and toward a tragic conclusion.
In act 2, with Hayley now an unwilling participant in the dangerous performance, things start to veer out of control. Walsh brilliantly dramatizes how frightening it is when two characters fight physically to control their narratives. What happens when someone wants to step out of their story? Can one brother let another go?
The Irish accents, so often a landmine for US actors, are perfect. Kennan is a first generation Irish American, so that probably helps. Instead of being put off at each awkward word in an Irish play performed in the US, which amazingly still happens at even the largest theatres in the land when it comes to Irish theatre, here you can focus in on the story itself. Beautiful. The actors are all excellent, but Peter Crook’s Dinny is truly a high water mark.
On paper, the odds against a night of exceptional theatre at a place like the tiny New City Theater are stacked high. It’s too small a space, it’s too unknown, the play is too hard, it requires foreign social context. But incredibly it all comes together in this unique, old school Seattle space and is thereby even more exciting than a great show at a big established theatre. Indeed, the outcome here is one that even many far larger theatres could not achieve no matter how large their budgets.
This show is absolutely worth traveling for, and has just been extended thru November 3. More info.
Want to find out what else is happening on the Seattle theatre scene? Here’s a quick guide.