Chicago Theatre Review
Strawdog Theatre Meets Us ‘Round the Pub, With “Conversations on a Homecoming”
By Lazlo Collins
“Conversations on a Homecoming” is the latest offering at Strawdog Theatre Company. This 90 minute “conversation” is well acted, but the story stunts the action.
I have seen several Irish Plays performed throughout the years. They are generally speaking, dark; and have a brooding quality about the story and characters. Not to disappoint, Tom Murphy’s characters are dark and brooding. It was hard to wrap my head around this piece as the play moved along. Mr. Murphy’s play seemed too slow and pondering, with a pace that never really took off. I am aware he is a well lauded playwright, however, I never quite engaged with this particular play of his.
The story revolves around “Michael’s” homecoming to Ireland. He has been in America for 10 years, and is now coming to the pub to see his friends. Michael’s homecoming brings up all sorts of emotions for the group he is about to engage. It’s the mid-seventies and the promise that was the early sixties in Ireland has shaped these now middle aged men and their respective circumstances.
The friends at the pub are at first happy, or perhaps intrigued, to see their old friend from Galway. As the conversation and liquor begin to flow, the emotions run high. The pub guests’ volley, poke, and prod at each other until failed longings and misguided decisions are painfully revealed.
The direction by Jonathan Berry was well executed. The staging of the players was staged in the main room of the pub, like fighters in a cage match. He moved the actors around like fighters jabbing forward and back; retreating to the corners of the pub when the conversations became too heated, at strike of some imaginary bell.
The most captivating and most destructive of all the patrons is “Tom” (excellently played by Michael Dailey) Mr. Daily’s portrayal of a jealous man, taken down by his own decisions was perfect. He was menacing and made me angry. That means he did his job. I felt pity and rage all at once. Mr. Daily is a talented actor.
As his long suffering mate, Anita Deely as “Peggy” was well played and real. Ms. Deely did a fantastic job. She kept the pathos and pace in check and on track. I loved her touching moments, and the moments through the play when she realizes she must soberly face her uncomfortable fate, just outside of Galway.
Adam Soule does a good job as the returning “Michael”. His optimism and personality shine through at every obstacle. He regally portrayed a man who wants to be part of his past, but as seen too much of the future. His interest in the quiet “Anne” was sweet and appropriately uncomfortable.
The other colorful pub characters give it their all as the come and go through the conversations throughout the play. Jeff Duhigg as Junior was understated and sweet, with just the right amount of angst. “Liam”, played by Ed Porter was more problematic. Mr. Porter seemed a bit out of sorts with the rest of the cast. His ill at ease character of “Liam” had a frenetic energy that didn’t seem to match the rest of the actor’s paces.
I tip my hat to the young actress that played “Anne”, the pub owner’s young daughter, after a medical emergency that prohibited the original actress from participating in opening night. She forged on with script in hand, and did an outstanding job. Please buy that girl a pint.
The set was meticulously executed and designed by Mike Mroch. I enjoyed the use of the Strawdog space.
This play has everything going for it, except, for me, a truly compelling story. The way poor Michael was received, I would have left before the first pint was finished. The special moments of the story get lost in the translation.
Perhaps it was too warm in the theater, perhaps I needed a pint from a long day; but whatever the reason, I was not transformed with the actors. I felt like an uncomfortable bystander waiting for them to stop drinking and go home. I never felt the payoff.
Maybe I need to see more Irish plays and discover that the yelling and confrontation is just part of the conceit of these types of shows.
Again, the acting, the accents, and the action seemed like a labor of love, without the grounding of a compelling story.
Conversations of a Homecoming can be seen at Strawdog Theatre through 28 September 2013. Tickets can be purchased through the box office at 773-528-9696.
For more information on this and other shows please visit theatre in Chicago at www.theatreinchicago.com