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A CurtainUp Review
Eden at New York's Irish Rep
New cast, new director. . .  same heartbreaking tale of two people living together but apart!

Catherine Byrne as Breda
Catherine Byrne as Breda
Like Lizzie Loveridge, who reviewed Eugene O'Brien's Eden in London (review below this box), I've grown a bit weary of Irish monologue story telling. Yet, the two narrators of O'Brien's serio-comedy exert an irresistible pull on your heartstrings. In addition to detailing their own stories they create a vivid portrait of a nameless but decidedly un-Eden-like modern town in the Southern Midlands in which their eleven-year marriage falls victim to drink, false macho and lack of communication. The cross-cutting structure, with the same sequence told from each speaker's viewpoint, makes for the maximum dramatic effect to be realized within this genre.

The production that just opened at the invaluable Irish Rep's home in Chelsea is fortunate to have Catherine Byrne and Ciarán O'Reilly to give new life to Breda and Billy. While it takes a couple of O'Reilly's initial monologues to get hold of the thick Southern Ireland accent, Ms. Byrne's creamy voiced words are more instantly accessible.

Good as Mr. O'Reilly is, it's Ms. Byrne in the meatier and more sympathetic role, who gives this quiet play its biggest emotional charge. She is one of those women who manages to be at once plain and beautiful, the sort of nondescript person you somehow look at and warm to -- especially when a smile lights up her face, and the soft voice bursts into song. Mr. O'Reilly's star turn comes near the end. The audience has already come to realize that every time he declares himself to be "back on track" he is, in fact, going in the wrong direction. Yet this makes his final humiliating " getting back on track" that much more wrenching.

Director John Tillinger has made no effort to provide a set that creates a realistic picture of the home and the pub that dominate the story. Instead the stage is cut into two triangles-- the "pub" triangle finished in smooth wood planks, the one denoting the the home unfinished and duller (like Breda's stay-at-home life bolstered only by trashy book inspired sexual fantasies). Both areas are encircled by panels that resemble the pressed-tin tiles often found on the ceilings of bars and restaurants. Neither character ever crosses the line dividing the stage -- and them. The shift from one actor to the other, and from mood to mood, is strongly supported by Howell Binkley's as always superb lighting. As is common in this difficult semi-thrust theater, the director can do just so much to give people sitting in the side section a full frontal view of the actors' faces (in this instance, this applies especially to Ms. Byrne.

The London review below makes further plot details superfluous. Reviews of the two differently cast and helmed productions serves to point up that others are likely to follow. Though Eden a play in which not much happens and what action there is (mostly in the second act) doesn't bring the solace of a happy ending, it can find a home wherever you have two actors who can do justice to its vibrant language and an audiences that will appreciate Mr. O'Brien's Joycean exploration of the human psyche.
---Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 31st press performance.
Written by Eugene O'Brien
Directed by John Tillinger.
Cast: Catherine Byrne & Ciarán O'Reilley
Set Design & Costume Design: Klara Zieglerova
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Running time: 2 hours, includes one 15-minute intermission
Irish Rep, 132 W. 22nd St. 212/727-2737
1/15/04 to 3/07/04-- extended to 3/21; opening 2/01/04. Tues to Sat @8pm, Wed matinees @ 2pm, Sat and Sunday matinees@ 3pm. $40-$45.

--- Eden in London, reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge ---

The golden flute is a fair size, when it gets going, but it takes a fair amount of work to get it going and some encouragement to keep it there.
-- Breda quoting her friend Aishling
Don Wycherley as Billy (Photo: Ivan Kyncl)
Eden is an ironic title of this first full length play for theatre from Eugene O'Brien who grew up in an Irish pub. His play is alternating, dark monologues from a married couple, Billy and Breda about their desperate marriage. In the tradition of Irish storytelling, O'Brien brings us pictures of a life spent in the bars, where an alcoholic haze numbs the pain of existence. It is a graphic, searing story, full of human suffering and failure. The performances from the two actors are outstanding, as good as any you will see on the London stage. It is a depressing rather than uplifting piece, although there is also much to smile at in the charming narrative.

Conor McPherson, author of the hit play The Weir directs and has achieved amazing conviction from his cast of two, Don Wycherley and Catherine Walsh. Together they relate with such richness the tales of their friends in their village, so that at then end of two hours, we feel these people are our old friends. The rhythm of their words is hypnotic, the litany of bars in the town, "Brophys, Flanagans, the Mack Bar" is as intoxicating as the drink sold there. It is hard to listen to these accents of Southern Ireland with dialect and Irish rhyming slang thrown in to puzzle the English audience and fully understand. "I got her a Vera Lynn and Supersonic" (Gin and Tonic). There were certainly moments when I felt I needed surtitles. But you will get the gist of what is being alluded to, even if you do not understand the exact words. One word that will not challenge you is Billy's favoured adjective, the seven letter "f" word. His text is peppered with it like spots on a polka dot dress, evidence of how limited he is in expression.

Eden is an analysis of a failing marriage. Billy (Don Wycherley) and Breda (Catherine Walsh) have been married ten years, have two daughters but their marriage has been without sexual relations for some time. Breda has lost a lot of weight in an attempt to revitalise her husband's interest in her. Her sexual fantasies are centred around a trashy novel, Angelique and the Sultan. Billy who describes himself as "strapped, saddled and married" fantasises on a real life teenager, Imelda, the daughter of one of his friends. Breda is pinning her hopes on a night out, with her new figure to reinvigorate Billy's interest in sex. Billy is planning how to lose Breda and make it with Imelda. Breda finds drunken sex with another man while Billy makes a fool of himself in front of everybody.

Wycherley stands, handsome but with thinning hair, his legs apart, hands in his pockets, telling tales of the Mouse, the Badger, the Banana O'Briens and his friend who is nicknamed James Galway because of his euphemistic "golden flute". As the play progresses, so does Billy's state of intoxication, he is "Micky" (Micky Monk = drunk) and starts to slur his words. Breda too becomes befuddled with drink, her head swaying, her eyes failing to focus, she blinks, nods her head like one of those dogs on the parcel shelf of a car and gets confused. She is a pathetic creature, in her denim jacket and big shoes, aching to be loved.

The set is depressing, covered in the same monotonous, cheap, brown patterned carpet on all surfaces, walls, floors trapping these characters in a dung coloured existence. Lighting changes from home to bar. It is a play, which gives an insight into sexual fantasy, as Billy sees himself in a painting of people gathering hay with Imelda as the willing milkmaid, while Breda imagines joining the harem to be pleasured by the Sultan. We never learn what Billy does for a living, only how he spends his leisure hours and his income. Billy and Breda are locked in unhappiness because of their lack of education and resources, his unwillingness to admit that there is a problem, her inability to compete with his addiction to alcohol and to move on.

Brilliant as the performances are, maybe the theatre going public is ready to move on from yet another Irish monologue play. A very expensive shiny card flyer with a crumpled picture of a classical Adam and Eve painting has hyped Eden as Best Play, Best New Writing, Damn fine, comic vivid and true, Sex, Lies and Fantasies. I fear that anyone buying tickets on the basis of that flyer will probably be disappointed in the same way that Breda is disappointed that her change of appearance is not the answer to her happiness.

Written by Eugene O'Brien
Directed by Conor McPherson

With: Don Wycherley and Catherine Walsh
Designer: Bláithîn Sheerin
Lighting Designer: Paul Keogan
Sound Designer: Cormac Carroll
The Abbey Theatre Dublin Production of Eden
Running time: Two hours five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7836 3334
Booking to 11th January 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th November 2002 performance at the Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport Street, London WC1 (Tube Station: Leicester Square)

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