Playwright: Hugh Leonard
At: Irish Repertory of Chicago at Victory Gardens, 2257 N. Lincoln Tickets: $32-$42
Runs through: May 20
by Jonathan Abarbanel
The Irish fall into two camps: those who seize life with relish, and those who merely endure it, really having no lives at all. Desmond Drumm, the subject of several plays by Irish author Hugh Leonard, is in the second camp. As a young man, Drumm was a wet blanket. Sexually repressed and overeducated for his career as a civil service bureaucrat, he demanded the best from those he liked and saw only the worst in others. Never allowing for human frailty or individual desires, Drumm found the former always failed to meet his expectations, while the latter never did. Thus, he let the woman he loved slip away. Forty years later, dying of cancer and regret, Drumm has progressed from wet blanket to misanthrope. Leonard's A Life is Drumm's tragicomic memory tale.
Directed by Richard Block, this production like Fenians themselves falls into two camps. While not rejecting the literate theatricality of Leonard's script, it nonetheless doesn't extract all the juice from it. Block understands the tragic part of the tale, but seems to ignore the comedy and much of the subtext.
Daniel J. Travanti as the older Drumm is marvelous with Drumm's precisely spat-out invective and irascibility. But he's also physically rigid and tightlipped to the point of dryness, diluting the play's comedy which should be robust. Drumm's humor is bitter, but nonetheless real. Travanti's ability is not the issue—he certainly can play comedy and has range as an actor—but his choices. We understand Drumm is emotionally dried up without playing the character that way. His internalized intensity occasionally make his fellow actors appear to be in a different play, especially the irrepressible Ray Wild as Kearns, an old rival from the life-seizing camp. The beats between them are out-of-sync, and the subtext is missing. Hasn't Block noticed?
Passion and subtext seem reserved for the quartet of actors who play Drumm, his lost love Mary, Kearns and Drumm's wife-to-be Dorothy as 20-ish young adults. Brian Gill and Alyson Green appealingly take the spotlight here, full of yearning and the potential for joy, supported by Blaine D. Vedros and Kristina Martin as Kearns and Dorothy. Deanna Dunagan and Brigid Duffy complete the cast as the older Mary and Dorothy, and have a warm camaraderie between them.
Dappled lighting by Lynne Koscielniak and Robert G. Smith's simple set of gazebo, grass, stone wall and Danissh Modern furniture effectively complete the thrust-stage production, along with well-flavored costumes by Margaret Walsh.
BUT: the supposed Dublin accents ranged from inconsistent to non-existent. For any troupe calling itself the Irish Repertory of Chicago, that's not good enough.
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