Thomas Burns Scully
If you’ve been following my writing recently, then you’ll know that this month is going to see a lot of Irish playwriting coming your way. I will be attending the entirety (hopefully) of the 1st Irish Festival’s offerings and offering my critical opinion. I began my long September’s journey in to Ireland on Saturday, with a visit to 59E59 for Donal O’Kelly’s ‘Little Thing Big Thing’ (Produced by Fishamble: The New Play Company), a distinctly Irish crime caper with a dark edge. The short version is, I liked it, you should see it if you can find the time. The long version is… well, it’s the long version. You see those looming, dark, cloud-like paragraphs below? Those are the long version. Sure, they look intimidating, but don’t be put off, I believe in you, why not read the whole thing? That’s the spirit.
So, a nun, an ex-con, and a statue of Mother Mary are in a car being chased by international criminals. That’s not the setup for a joke, that’s a large component of the plot for ‘Little Thing Big Thing’. The above mentioned unlikely pair are trying to get a roll of camera film to a potential African deportee in Dublin. On the way they encounter low-lifes, assassins, men dressed as leprechauns, holier-than-thou gardai and surprisingly honest junkies. The two main characters, as well as all the minor supporting characters, are played by Donal O’Kelly and Sorcha Fox, who flip between roles as the scenes demand. The whole thing culminates in a chase through the city of Dublin, and the potential exposure of an international conspiracy. It’s not exactly madcap adventure, but it’s not more than a few breaths away.
The writing has definite overtones of a more PG-13 Martin McDonagh. The story hits on similar, slightly-jarring beats and plays with similar quirky, semi-dystopian, modern-Irish character types. That said, O’Kelly’s script has less swearing and far less ultra-violence. Comedy throughout is largely character based, but with plenty of enjoyable word play and more bawdy physical references thrown in. O’Kelly and Fox are unanimously enjoyable to watch, as their principle roles, and filling in the absentee supporting cast. Clearly well-practiced pros, they switch between roles with a smooth efficacy and professional proficiency that would make Billy West blush.
O’Kelly’s play is, overall, highly enjoyable, and the however that is about to follow is purely for the sake of Aristotelian critical discourse, rather than an indictment of the mirth-giving powers of the show. However, I get the distinct impression that ‘Little Thing’ would have worked better as a film. In a manner similar to Greek drama, the characters describe events off-stage or out-of-view, usually in immediacy and with an onomatopoeic quality, for the benefit of the audience. The visual nature of the writing bears less in common with theatrical drama than it does with scenic directions in a movie. The actors do a marvelous job of creating the feeling of a wider world in the confines of Jon Comiseky’s mesh and corrugated iron set; and the script is served brilliantly by Jim Culleton’s direction, but there is a visual bent to O’Kelly’s writing struggling to break free, and no amount of theatre can do for it what a decent cinematographer could. In a sentence: I would watch a movie of ‘Little Thing Big Thing’, and it’s likely it would be as enjoyable as the play, potentially more so.
But, as I said earlier, that’s only so much head scratching from the nether-regions of my fancy. My job as a critic is to tell you whether a piece of theatre is worth your time, and so I fulfill my MO here in telling you that ‘Little Thing Big Thing’ most certainly is. It’s an ectopic romp with political edge and well-insulated wit. What it lacks in scale it makes up for in performances. Fox and O’Kelly are devastatingly good, and present enough mouth-watering character portrayals to fill a Marxian foreign legion. Whatever my hang-ups are about the film-theatre divide, it does nothing to take away from the excellent job done within the confines of the 59E59 theatre. As far as the 1st Irish Festival goes, ‘Little Thing Big Thing’ is a good solid place to start, I’m anxious to see what comes next.
‘Little Thing Big Thing’ runs at 59E59 Theatres through September 27th as part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival. Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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