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A CurtainUp Review
The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle
By Tyler Plosia
But Eric, as he lays down and feels the pain in his chest slowly start to ebb away, won't know any of this. The questions that he's asked his entire life about being remembered, the worries he's carried with him every day about making a difference, have faded into the quickly retreating night."— Narrator
Eric Argyle
L-R: Davey Kelleher and Manus Halligan (Photo credit: Lucy Nuzum)
Eric Argyle is a forlorn man, one who never seems to be able to make his intended connections. The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle, written by Ross Dungan and being performed in New York as part of the 1st Irish Festival, is primarily about Eric's life, and, as an extension, it's about a series of near misses. There's the uncle who fails to impart a lesson of strength and independence to his nephew; the suicide attempt thwarted by the arrival of an unanticipated visitor; and, maybe most significantly, there are the two would-be lovers who miss the boat to London they seemed so fated to catch.

But the play does hit the emotional marks it aims for. It may too often be a strange tonal mix of foreboding and maudlin but it succeeds in linking the seemingly disconnected story lines.

In a scattered but malleable set comprised of loose typewriter papers and a table which doubles as a closet door, disparate small town characters come together in unexpected ways. Eric Argyle conjures Dylan Thomas in its encapsulation of small-town life, but where a play like Under Milk Wood is an exercise in meandering character-based storytelling, this play is plot-based and centered around one particular life.

The presentation of Dungan's narrative is ambitious in a number of ways (and challenging in ways the narrative itself cannot claim to be). On stage guitar-playing resembles the music of Once and creates a tales-by-the-fire atmosphere. On stage reading from a book helps to preface certain scenes. Much of this presentational style lends itself to a comfortable (and vaguely saccharine) mood. There are also more unusual structural elements — for example, a few moments when the audience is acknowledged and referred to as "a room full of dead people."

The play's dialogue offers its own curious addition. The characters' naturalistic speech is offset strangely by the prosodic language of the narration. The traditionally heightened conversations are made slightly distant and unreal by this juxtaposition.

The acting is passing at worst, gripping at best, but somewhat trapped by the format. Kate Lyons and Davey Kelleher are standouts. Lyons alternates seamlessly between an empathetic narrator and a stern moderator of the afterlife. Kelleher convinces as an amusingly threatening speech therapist.

Once the scene is set, the story finds footing on fairly familiar ground. Eric Argyle is a dead man, but Life and Sort of Death. . . is about various moments of particularly pronounced regret in his life (there are shades of other memory plays like Our Town and The Glass Menagerie throughout). But unlike some should-have, could-have stories, this one finds a silver lining in the passing of its protagonist: sometimes the remnants of a life which appears unfulfilled can help make the lives of those it leaves behind worth living.

The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle
By Ross Dungan
Directed by Dan Herd
Cast: Siobhan Cullen (Gillian), Manus Halligan (Mr.Downey/Craig), Davey Kelleher (Mr. Aldershot), Katie Lyons (Moderator), David McEntegart (Eric Argyle), James Murphy (Young Eric/Sam), Erica Murray (Julia/Imelda/Ms. Quillmore),Karen Sheridan (Jessica Bolger/Receptionist)
Stage Manager: Jess Johnston
Costume Design: Emma Gleeson
Musical Director: Neil Fitzpatrick
Composition: Rob Kearns
Running Time: 95 minutes without intermission
59E59, 59 East 59th Street
From 9/4/13; opening 9/11; closing 9/29/13
Tickets: $35.00, 212.753.5959 x102
Reviewed by Tyler Plosia based on September 8th press performance
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