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Dublin by Lamplight
One hundred years later, Corn Exchange commemorated the first even with Dublin by Lamplight, written by Michael West and directed by the company’s artistic director, Annie Ryan. The play blends real events (King Edward VII’s visit to Ireland) with Irish myth (the theater’s inaugural production, called The Wooing of Emer, is about the Irish fictional hero Cuchulain) and pure invention (this first production is plagued with mishaps reminiscent of those seen in Michael Frayns Noises Off. The play was presented in a style that combined narration and Corn Exchange’s trademark Commedia dell’Arte.
In Inis Nua Theatre Company’s production, directed by Tom Reing, now onstage at 59#59 Theaters as part of the Irish Festival taking place throughout the city, the faithful adherence to Corn Exchange’s original production results in an evening that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Six actors perform a multitude of roles, but the most important ones are Willy Hayes (Jered McLenigen), the distracted and struggling producer; his brother Frank (Jared Michael Delaney), an alcoholic actor who is convinced he can advance Ireland’s cause by planting a bomb under the king’s limo; Eva St. John (Megan Bellwoar), the volatile star and part-time Republican; Maggie (Sarah Van Auken), the wardrobe girl who is in love with and pregnant by Frank; Jimmy (Michael Doherty), a stagehand hopelessly in love with Maggie; and Martyn (Mike Dees), a sensible actor trying to maintain sanity amidst the mayhem.
With only a barebones set that can be either the front of the theater or backstage, and piano music that sets the mood, Dublin by Lamplight takes the audience through the streets of Dublin, and into a cafe, a police station and the city morgue. The actors wear heavy white greasepaint, which turns the them into abstractions but at the same time makes them all the more expressive.
These six performers are so charming and so well-directed that even some of the running jokes, which can only be fully understood by those with a good understanding of Irish history, are nevertheless funny. Delaney and McLenigan work together like Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello or any of the great comic teams that come to mind. And Van Auken has a forlorn audacity and cunning that evokes both laughter and compassion.
But the true genius of this production is the magnificent synergy in the ensemble work. There’s a lot of comic physicality in this show. This requires perfect timing and well-executed exits and entrances, to say nothing of faultless falls. Much of the delight lies in choreography that gives the show a dance-like quality.
If you like your history tweaked a bit and you appreciate performance art as much as traditional theater, Dublin by Lamplight is a show you won’t want to miss.
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