Reviewed by Tony Peters
Old Red Lion Theatre, Angel Islington, 22 January – 16 February
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Director Anil Douglas
John Patrick Shanley’s powerful drama finally gets a UK premiere with this impressive production courtesy of Lightning Jar Theatre Company.
It was written in 1986, predating the author’s Oscar win for the screenplay of Moonstruck and his Pulitzer Prize and Tony award for Doubt, so one wonders why it’s taken so long in finding a producer this side of the pond.
In a decaying Bronx apartment sits twenty-something Tommy (Kieran Moloney), a man at odds with pretty much everything and struggling to make sense of his place in the world. He’s not doing himself any favours on the love front either, having woven a tangled emotional web involving his girlfriend Donna (Stacie Bono) and her sixteen-year-old sister Mona, with whom he is also sleeping.
Donna arrives looking for answers and despite knowing she’s in a potentially doomed relationship, she can’t bring herself to just walk away from this mess of a man. Bono is terrific here, effortlessly switching from sassy streetwise broad who mocks the pathetic Tommy (especially when he announces he’s found God — that perennial get out for the dysfunctional) to vulnerable young girl. But while Moloney pretty much matches Bono in their verbal sparring, he doesn’t totally convince and his speech that closes the first act didn’t really make me feel Tommy’s pain and confusion.
Unable to resolve things with Tommy, Donna turns to her father (Jason Will), but there is baggage here as well with Donna seeing in him the man that Tommy looks destined to become. The exchanges between father and daughter are powerful and moving stuff with Will giving a performance of visceral physicality somehow coupled with moments of humour — despite the man’s history of parental neglect and adultery, he has a roguish charm that you can’t help but warm to.
The intimate space of the Old Red Lion Theatre is perfect for this play, putting you right in the room with the characters and at times you really share the discomfort. — the speech where Donna describes her and Tommy’s love making to her father is riveting. I can’t imagine this connection with the characters would have been so effective if it had played in a conventional proscenium arch theatre.
Someone’s phone went off during the second act (will these people never learn?), which was a touch of intimacy we could have done without, but thankfully it didn’t seem to put the actors off and such was the skill of their performances, the mood wasn’t really broken.
The poster and publicity material feature a striking image of a nude woman, which could give a slightly misleading impression about the content. However, while the play doesn’t contain any actual nudity, it is an uncompromising examination of relationships in crisis.