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A CurtainUp Review
After Luke & When I Was God,

Sell the fuckin' place! Listen to me now, Dad Ten years ago you couldn't give this place away. But these days? These days it's worth a fortune. . .
—&Maneen (talking directly to the audience) in After Luke.
After Luke
Gary Gregg as Son in After Luke
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Two of the one-act plays, After Luke and When I Was God, that comprise The Second City Trilogy by Conál Creedon have been paired by the Irish Repertory Theatre. Originally commissioned as part of the Cultural Capital of Europe Celebrations 2005, the plays (including the third play The Cure) take place in and around Cork City and are reflective of contemporary Ireland. That it provides some fresh and amusing insights into Creedon's theme of father and son relationships is welcome as is yet another playwright who has been touched by the Gaelic muse. It is curious, however, that Creedon's additional talent and credits as a novelist, journalist, and documentary maker, seem to be more in evidence than his skill in honing his dramatic literature.

While both plays are inhabited by compassionately evinced sad and funny characters, they seem to be hampered by the dictates of a short story rather than by the very dissimilar needs of a play. While Creedon's characters are a rich source of enlivening everyday Irish vernacular, they are also placed in positions and postures (literally) to deliver substantial doses of exposition (spoken directly to the audience), an occasionally useful device that nevertheless often keeps potential confrontations and interactions at bay. Despite some fine performances by the three actors, two of whom appear in both plays, the stolid, visually exasperating staging/direction by Tim Ruddy (more about that later) only helps to outline and intensify the apparently prescribed limitations of both plays.

After Luke is the better and more substantial of the plays. In it, Son (Gary Gregg), the elder half-brother of Maneen (Michael Mellamphy) is keenly aware that their Dadda (Colin Lane) has openly favored the spoiled rotten Maneen since childhood. Despite the dispiriting abuse he has taken from Maneen and Dadda all his life, Son has steadfastly remained at home into adulthood working as an automotive mechanic on the family property.

Unable to succeed as an adult in business in London, Maneen returns home after ten years like the Prodigal Son and re-ignites the old tension and rivalry. A wheeler-dealer by nature Maneen is determined to talk Dadda into selling the land at a great profit. Much of the humor and poignancy of the plot revolves around seeing how Dadda is able to consistently overlook Maneen's devious plans even as he continues to berate and humiliate the more conciliatory Son.

Mellamphy captures Maneen's full-of-the-devil spirit, even as our empathy is directed toward Son, beautifully acted with wide-eyed gullibility by Gregg. A couple of scenes stand out for their comical ingenuity: Son is driving Dadda to his Tuesday night Bingo and gets the old man's goat by refusing to use the clutch. The funniest moment occurs as the gloating Maneen gives Son a detailed description of his sexual dalliance with Martina, the woman Son had hoped to woo. Not that we are meant to be fooled by his subtle impersonation, but Mellamphy also briefly assumes the role of Martina's mother Mrs. Foley.

Even considering the play's often blistering narrative thrust, it is hard to fathom or condone director Ruddy decision to keep the actors positioned for long periods of time in a framed triangle, each facing front, occasionally even standing behind a pillar, completely blocking the view of the part of the audience that sits on the side of the stage.

In When I Was God a commentator (Gregg) stands on a plinth and shouts out the plays on the Cup Final day. In front of him a league of Ireland soccer referee Dinny Keegan (Mellamphy) looks back on his life as a young boy torn between his incompatible, ever battling parents. Despite sustaining injuries on the field, his dominating father (also played by Gregg) is committed to seeing his son succeed at the Gaelic sport of hurling while his mother (also played by Mellamphy) would rather have him committed to British soccer. Somewhere in between is table tennis. At the half-time Dinny does a lot of soul-searching amid troubling echoes of the past.

Although Dinny appears to be a pawn for a father who will not be satisfied unless his son is martyred for the sport, we get a glimpse into the mind of this young man who may finally be capable of stamping his own authority on the game as well as claiming his own long sought-after goal. What a terrific departure for Gregg to play the despotic, heartless father (right after seeing him play the put-upon Son in After Luke). And how nice it was to see Mellamphy as a winner after being a loser in After Luke). Ruddy, who is making his Off Broadway directorial debut, once again refused to consider the sightlines or was it that he was simply confounded by Lex Liang's minimalist set? Let's call it a foul.

I Was God was previously presented as part of the 2008 1st Irish Theatre Festival.

After Luke
  By Conál Creedon
  Directed by Tim Ruddy

Cast: Michael Mellamphy (Maneen, Mrs. Foley), Gary Gregg (Son), Colin Lane (Dadda)

When I Was God
  By Conál Creedon
  Directed by Tim Ruddy

Cast: Gary Gregg (Father, Commentator), Michael Mellamphy (Referee, Young Dinny, Dino, Mother)

Set Designer: Lex Liang
  Costume Designer: David Toser
  Lighting Designer: Brian Nason
  Sound Designer: Shannon Salton
  Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission
  Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street
  (212) 727 – 2737
  Tickets ($65 and $55)
  Performances: Wednesday – Saturday at 8 PM, Matinees are Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3 PM.
  From 7/29/09; opening 8/06/09; closing 9/20/09. Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/05/09
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