Maybe charming isnï¿½t a word associated with theatre unless it is for a young audience. Yet, that is the word that comes to mind for this production of the 1st Irish Festival.
Spinning the Times is a collection of five monologues by Irish writers, performed in a black box theatre, on a bare stage whose only permanent set piece is hanging low watt filament bulbs. Just my cuppa. The monologues are set in Northern Ireland, Gaza, a London mental institution, a bar in Red Hook and somewhere in Queens. In The Lemon Tree, a teenager in todayï¿½s Northern Ireland is raging through his hormones and his generationï¿½s version of ï¿½the Troublesï¿½. In The Luthier, a violin-maker in Gaza listens for bombs and speaks of his own life in a parable of the violin, which, with the proper attention, can recover from any damage. Miracle Conway is the story of a woman, now in a London mental institution, who had her 15 minutes of fame and delusion as an assistant lyricist to a Rock icon, for whom she ended up having feelings that resulted in disaster. Gin in a Teacup welcomes us to the world of Romayne, dressed in vintage 1940ï¿½s clothing, living in a world suspended between folk tales and reality, waiting for a sister who may or may not a) show up and b) exist. Finally, in Fugue we journey on a path of exile with David, who has left Northern Ireland because he stepped over the line with the local gang when he stood up for his younger brother.
Everyone here is camped out on the shifting plates of chaos. Violence and uncertainty lurk about these characters like angry clouds, and, even in the calm moments each appears ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.
All this is on the plus side. The downside is that I had no idea what tied these pieces together other than the nationality of the writers.
It occurs to me that the fact that I spent time wondering about logistics was also due to the fact that the monologues, in and of themselves, were not always riveting. The writing is varied in skill, technique and content. The actors are also a smorgasbord of talents ï¿½ with a jewel of work by Aysan Celik (Romayne) and an effective turn by Ethan Nova (Dawood). And, the entire evening could have used more attention from the director, M. Burke Walker. With the exception of Gin in a Teacup (whose vintage clothing was supposed to be 1920â€™s ï¿½ 30â€™s for the reference to gin in a teacup to make sense) the blocking was cumbersome and repetitive. Add this to the fact that four of these actors were also struggling with accents ï¿½ it might have been better to simply let them tell their story.
But the evening itself has an electricity that smooths out the major rough spots. Spinning The Times iS a charming jumble. It is an odd, uneven, combination of characters that doesnï¿½t make sense in all the right ways. These are the people you see every day on the subway or on the street, only this time they have your undivided attention and are painted in detail by Irish eyes that are not always smiling. Good for these writers.
And just as a personal aside - Spinning The Times is supposed to be about the world, but the stories were discovered in New York. That figures.
"...short plays inspired by reports from the New York news media." & "The gimmick,..., ends up being distracting: as youï¿½re watching, youï¿½re trying to figure out what news report inspired the piece."
New York Times
"is fairly consistent. The better playlets aren't so great that they embarrass the lesser ones -- which aren't horrendous."
New York Post
"a seemingly random assortment of stories that leaves the reader puzzled but fascinated. "