Written by Enda Walsh
Directed by Mikel Murfi
Four men sit at the bottom of a grimy, empty pool. As the sun rises over their wonderfully dreary surroundings on an absent man's Aegean coast estate, their bickering and bantering reveals years, perhaps decades of days that began just like the one portrayed in Enda Walsh
's imaginative adaptation of the last book of Homer's Odyssey
at St. Ann's Warehouse
(through November 14). The men are dreading this day in particular, weary as to which of two fates will find them first: will Odysseus finally return and murder them all as a shared dream suggests; or will his wife finally take one of them as her new husband? The pool is a peculiar kind of purgatory, where time isn't suspended but cruel, wearing down the men's faculties and physiques. They are taunted by the centerpiece of set and costume designer Sabine Dargent's superb scenery, a barbecue, which worked once briefly and now curses them with its hulking uselessness. "I'd imagined us standing around like a group of friends," Dunne (Denis Conway) recalls of the day it appeared mysteriously, "eating hot meats, drinking cool beers, talking business into the early hours... It's a garden tragedy is what it is; a real bastard!" Instead of that dream of an endless frat party, the four men are more like creative writing student roommates, dissecting syntax and fighting over a girl none of them really knows.
Every day each man has an opportunity to woo Odysseus's wife when an alarm and prison escape-style spotlight selects him. The prized Penelope (Olga Wehrly) marches out on a Philip Johnson-esque wing of Odysseus's glass house high above the pool, and watches each man's profession of love via closed-circuit TV. Over the course of 90 minutes they all get a final crack at her, as they're convinced that her husband will be back by day's end. At one point there's a question of teaming up to ensure that one of them is chosen to save the rest—affording one of the Druid Theatre Company
's postmodern production's many tongue-in-cheek meta-theatrical exclamations: "We're building a company, right here!"—but their competitive instincts return with renewed vigor. Each offers an exaggerated take on a male archetype: Fitz (Niall Buggy), the eldest, a gentle, bald romantic; Dunne (Conway), the Falstaffian bon-vivant; Burns (Tadhg Murphy), the jittery, battered youngster; and Quinn (Karl Shiels), the preening, Survivor
-minded alpha male. A large blood stain marks the grotty tile, left by the recently voted-off fifth contestant of a competition that originally counted hundreds, reminding of the deadly seriousness underlying the hilariously verbose banter. As each man takes his turn, each actor having his moment literally in the spotlight, Walsh's deliberate, rigidly structured writing reminds of Beckett. But the charged sense of space—of being stuck somewhere that alternately feels like a prison or the only place one knows, and therefore a kind of sanctuary—evokes the bourgeois living room limbo of Sartre's No Exit
. Here, rather than drily denying death, the trapped souls fight off the surrounding void with gushing springs of speech.
To keep talking is to delay the inevitable, whether that be the traveling warrior's return or Penelope's decision. This, combined with the production's over-the-top performative mode, its reliance on neatly sequenced and escalating speeches rather than actual relations between characters, eventually undermines any sense of risk, danger or even momentum. Only Fitz's hushed ode to nothingness, a beautiful, precious passage, throws the rest's verbal excesses into acute relief. As if the subject of four powerful men lamenting the disappointments of their privileged lives weren't already a sufficiently egregious indulgence, Walsh dangles the beautiful, speechless prize as little more than eye candy, moving angelically in a cool blue dress. It's no fault of Wehrly's, one only wishes her character might have played a role of any substance at all in her own story. Alternately, the production might have gained some powerful sense of mystery had the title character never even appeared. Alas, all must out in Penelope
. And so the four men in speedos talk themselves hilariously, unwaveringly toward their tiled doom, or their deliverance, whichever.
(photo credit: Robert Day)