The Pride of Parnell Street

  • Date:
    September 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    A review by Tulis McCall

    There is definitely some good storytelling going on in this 1st Irish Festival, some of that good old Irish humor and darkness warp and woof. And of course it is not smooth sailing in the writing, direction or performing � that would be way too simple.

    I�m bettin� ya dollars to donuts - my donuts, your dollars - that The Pride of Parnell Street began life as a monologue. While this tale is told by two people, it is the husband�s story that gives you something to hang your hat on.

    Joe (Aidan Kelly), also known as Big Macker, and his wife Janet (Mary Murray) haven�t seen each other in ten years. Not since the night in 1999 that Ireland lost the big soccer match and Joe went off on Janet in a big way. Big enough to break most of her face and send her running to the Women�s Shelter with her two boys. Joe had never laid a hand on Janet before that night, and would never get a chance to after.

    More than the tale of a marriage it is a tale of a people caught in the financial boom that hit Ireland in the 1990�s that lifted up and diminished with the same hand. Dublin�s Parnell Street was the site of triumphs and tragedies, heroes and victims, criminals and saints. For Joe, it was Janet who was the Pride of Parnell Street. For Janet it was Patty Duffy the shopkeeper, who looked after the living as well as the wounded and often the dying, who kept the pride there no matter who tried to take it away.

    Joe was a Midday Man. He woke at midday and pilfered parked cars for whatever he could get. What he gathered he turned over to the Afternoon Man who fenced the goods. Joe had dreams and hopes but they were without form or foundation. And when we meet him on what will surely be his deathbed from no one knows exactly what � a rash, a debilitating disease, AIDS � something he think he caught from a shared needle, we find a man still pumped up with dreams and plans. Joe�s dreams and plans are grand and painted with that language.

    Janet married Joe young, and had three boys. The oldest died on Parnell Street, but this is only part of the tale. Janet is filled with memories both good and bad, which is part of her dilemma. She cannot stop loving the man she will never trust again, and cannot get him out of her life when she sees his face in her children every day. Pride will not let her go back and pride is what keeps her alive.

    The odd bit of this play lies in Janet. Somewhere between the writing and Ms. Murray�s performance Janet becomes a woman who serves up her tale much like a tired woman might serve a bunch of noisy children � here it is, like it or lump it. She is as complicated as Joe but never materializes as fully. Joe tells us what is. �The f------- inner city they call it, like it was something inside something, something hidden inside, or safe inside. I don�t know. But the place where I come from is all raw in the wind, outside with f------- knobs on, nothing inner about it, it�s as out as you can get, like the North Pole�. Janet generalizes. �There�s a good deal in life to make a woman cry, and that�s just the way of it.� Joe has a particular path along which he is guiding us. He has the story of how he done himself in, and he is eager to curate the tour. Janet has a tale of how she has lived in stasis for nearly ten years. There have been no plans, no joys, just a litany of colorless days.

    The characters are separated by style as well. Mr. Kelly is crisp and articulate. Words to him are a symphony. Ms. Murray appears exhausted not only by the tale, but by the act of telling it. This, combined with Murray�s accent, which to my untrained ear sounded more like Northern Ireland, made it difficult to latch on to her character, not to mention understand what she was saying.

    So The Pride of Parnell Street is, for me, the story of Joe and how he done what he done. It is not a happy making tale, but it is, as the Irish are fond of saying �a good story�. And for the Irish �a good story� is more important than the details of the telling.

    Tulis McCall

    What the press had to say.....

    "as directed by Jim Culleton, Ms. Murray and Mr. Kelly share a gift for sensually summoning the fractured present of people for whom the past seems far more vivid than anything since. Both, in other words, are a pleasure to watch and listen to." & " ...largely keeps �The Pride of Parnell Street� on the level of a melodious, heartbroken pop song"
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "At times, the language is difficult to follow, and the thick accents and Irish dialect -- there's a glossary in the program -- don't help. But the performances in this Fishamble Theatre Company production, imported from Dublin as part of the 59E59 Theaters' 1st Irish festival, couldn't be better."
    Frank Scheck
    New York Post

    "reminded me of what a slump modern Irish theater is in."
    John Simon

    "While Barry may be averse to vulgar dramatic conflict, he shines at delivering vulgar everyday dialogue that, despite its humble origins, often rises up and sings. Under the secure direction of Jim Culleton, the talented Kelly and Murray turn this language into authentic arias."
    Karl Levett
    Back Stage