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A CurtainUp Review

by Jenny Sandman

Ah, the Irish. A lyrical people they are, prone to writing fine Irish family dramas, full of subtleties and cups of tea and references to the misty bog. Himself by Colm Byrne at DR2, upholds this grand tradition.

The play is the story of Michael, an Irish man in a small village who is slowly losing his mind. We never learn the cause of his mental failings, but he knows he will not be sane for much longer. His son comes home to introduce his new fiancée, Angela, and to announce that they are off to America. He wants to put his father in a home, but Angela does not. She stumbles upon a fit of nighttime raving; during his rambling, Michael mistakes her for his long-dead wife, and (we are led to believe) a little illicit lovin' ensues. Angela learns he was once a great singing talent, and wants him to start singing again, to rekindle his passion in hopes of staving off his senility. Both the son and the family doctor resist, for reasons that go far deeper than anyone suspected.

The is ambiguous. We are left wondering if Michael finds the necessary fire to start singing again and if so, whether this bring back any sort of mental clarity?

Himself has all the inherent visual and aural poetry one might expect from an Irish writer. The set is quite lovely, suggestive and earthy at the same time. The rough-hewn table is the centerpiece, with a wood stove and Dutch door set into textured pieces of wall, underscored by evocative lighting.

The theatre community has found a rare talent in Byrne. He's quite the impresario -- not only is Himself his first full-length play but he has directed it and stars in it as well. (He's easy on the eyes, too). His direction is simple and strong, and he does an excellent job as Michael, the father. His acting is a little tentative; he needs to trust his instincts and let go.
The acting in general is somewhat cautious, although Eileen O'Connell as Angela is an admirable foil to Michael. The actors are obviously concentrating too much on their accents, somehow thick and false at the same time, to the detriment of the overall performances. Their talent is evident, a power just beneath the surface-they need to unleash themselves.

The play starts off very slowly, and doesn't pick up until most of the way through the first act. It needs some trimming; there's too much in it that doesn't advance the story or reveal anything new about the characters. The opening scene is largely irrelevant (and stylistically unrelated to the rest of the play), and the subplot involving the doctor hasn't been satisfactorily woven in. But with some dramaturgical fine-tuning, the show could be exceptional.

Written and directed by Colm Byrne
Cast: Colm Byrne (Michael), Eileen O'Connell (Angela/May), Patrick Tull (Doctor), Jason Odell Williams (Sean/Himself)
Composer/Sound Design: Liz Stanton
Set Design: Michelle Malavet
Costume Design: Jessica Gaffney
Lighting Design: Sarah Sidman
Sound Design: Bart Fastbender
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission DR2 Theatre, Union Square; 103 East 15t>h Street
Tickets $20-30; 212-505-0858 or telecharge: 239-6900
1/21/03-2/09/03; opening 1/24/03
Tuesday through Saturday, 8 pm, Sun 3 pm Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on January 24th performance
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