First Irish 2008’s showcase of short plays inspired by the New York City subway features something for all comers -- just like the city itself.
BY ELLEN WERNECKE
Not every play depicted in “End of Lines,” a collection of short plays by up and coming Irish playwrights, takes place near or even references the subway. Still, these snapshots of New York life, which run the gamut from sci-fi to Lifetime drama, display the sensitivity of the outsider without the obtuseness shown by many works about the city. We assign each play a borough, below:
”The Housekeeper” by Morna Regan
A recently laid off single mother (Paula Nance) takes up residence in someone else’s brownstone, with the rallying cry, “Maybe someone else should get a turn now.” When she meets its elderly society owner (Jacqueline Knapp), she discovers that with great wealth comes great baggage.
Borough: Staten Island, because the catalogue of misery multiplied by time becomes as repetitive and brutal as S.I. residents’ insistence that no one appreciates them enough. The creative misdirection of the play’s opening, in which Nance enters burdened with cleaning supplies as if she is back at her old job, devolves into a series of lines that never feel like honest dialogue. Thus the opportunity to interrogate genuine issues of class in the city, like the Staten Island Ferry, ultimately goes nowhere.
Directed by Fiana Toibin.
”Evangeline Elsewhere” by Pat Kinevane
An unknown woman (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) breaks the fourth wall to open up about her son, Evander, whom she nearly lost once after being attacked while pregnant on the 3 train. By turns gleeful and supplicating, her story is forced to confront a terrible truth about motherhood and safety.
Borough: Queens. Just like the construction that has plagued its main lines, “Evangeline Elsewhere” takes its sweet time to orient the audience to its protagonist’s particular brand of suffering. Still, the destination is worth it because of Hebert Gregory’s luminescent performance: The discrepancies between the snatches of stories Evangeline tells, like the patchwork of neighborhoods crossed by the F train, ultimately lead to a moment of grace when the emotional destination of the character is revealed. (But it should be noted, the 3 train does not go to Queens.)
Directed by David Sullivan.
”The Mission,” by Gary Duggan
A pair of prep school kids (Hal Fickett and Chris Henry) who claim to be looking for a drum’n’bass club accost a fellow subway passenger, Lucia (Brianne Berkson), while they wait for a late-night subway train. But are they cleverer than they look? And is their refrain, “We’re from outta town,” in fact a dangerous weapon?
Borough: The Bronx, where Lucia calls home and from whose reserves she draws when a routine ride takes a turn for the worse. Recasting a subway station -- with the edge of the stage doubling as the edge of the platform -- as a field of menace is a master stroke whose effectiveness, like the boys’, is easy to underestimate. Lucia passes by caricature without ever embodying it, and the final stroke she is charged with giving out doubles as a tri-state in-joke.
Directed by Alyse Rothman.
“Shaving The Pickle,” by Abbie Spallen
Sometime in the future, checkpoints fracture New York, Coney Island is a detention center and the 6 is the only train running. In the unbearable heat, a government worker named Don (Jerzy Gwiazdowski) takes pity on an older woman (Dori Legg) who is sharing his shelter, but the arrival of a battered former stripper (Molly Ward) threatens their
Borough: Manhattan, because it’s the territory most often destroyed on film (the 6 also appears in January’s monster movie “Cloverfield”) and structurally is the most classic work on view with three clearly defined acts. Don’s tragic flaw is allowing himself to take his eyes off procuring the means to escape, one glaringly obvious to the audience but out of his view. And the anachronistic touches here -- grammatically curious dialogue, ‘80s wardrobe -- mirror the ways the island gets comically lost in translation on the big screen.
Directed by Julia Gibson.
”The Parting Glass,” by Ursula Rani Sarma
Three brothers meet to fulfill a peculiar request in their father’s will and receive their inheritance. Compassionate Jimmy (Raymond James Hill), who has just returned from burying their father in Ireland, ambitious Michael (David Nelson), his features a whiplash of impatience, and the dreaming, imperiled Rory (Ryan King) convene for what could be the last time.
Borough: Brooklyn, because number 2 tries harder. This nearly note-perfect closer to the evening, the only one to directly reference Ireland and the Irish, never detours into stock earnestness about the meaning of brotherhood or any kind of Bono-scripted platitude about the relationship between the Emerald Isle and the Big Apple. The boys have assimilated with ease but, when forced to look back, find it means more to them than an empty gesture.
Directed by Portia Krieger.
“First Irish 2008: End of Lines” runs through Sept. 28 at 59E59 Theatres. For tickets and more information, visit 1stirish.org.
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