Review: myth and realism in the ‘Crackskull Row’

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina: “All happy families look alike, every unhappy family is miserable in it’s own way”. So every time I come to the theater and see a couch in the middle of a living room on stage, I expect to see yet another way of how this particular family is unhappy. ‘Crackskull Row’ indeed tells a story of one Dublin family, which used to live on the street that gave the paly its name. But as the tale progresses, we become increasingly unsure of what is real, what is not, who is alive and who is dead. The dark and disturbing play by Honor Molloy walks in circles through the swamped woods of one’s mind, leaving us without the firm ground of reality until the end. 

The matriarch of the family, Masher Moorigan (Terry Donnelly), has no energy or desire to leave her shabby couch; it looks like she has spent days on it. Everything she needs to be at hand she hides between the cushions: sweets, a candle and bandage. Everything she doesn’t need she hides there as well, like utility bills, which she clearly is not paying. The house is falling apart – the inner structures of the walls are peaking through. 

The scenic designer, Daniel Geggatt, did a great job creating an atmosphere of decay. The costumes by Siena Zoe Allen took it even further by layering women’s garments in the manner of homeless people, combining the 60’s and 90’s in the eclectic outfits. Little details, like vines in Masher’s hair and vines swallowing the fence outside the house, turn the stage into a family crypt where the living, ghosts, memories and hallucinations are in agony and unable to find their rest.      

When Masher’s daughter, Dolly (Gina Costigan), appears from the fireplace, she has to use the rainwater from the bowl outside to wash her mother’s feet because there is no running water in the house. After performing this “biblical” ritual, the women discover that the water turned to blood. They seem to get over this phenomenon quickly and continue teasing each other and reminiscing about the past. 

Terry Donnelly, portraying Masher Moorigan, seems to wear this part like a second skin. The actress switches gears smoothly, puling out both comedic and tragic parts of her character. Gina Costigan doubles as the young Masher, a woman trying to escape her unbearable life conditions but only pushing her family towards the catastrophe. Colin Lane plays both grown up Rasher, Masher’s son, and Basher, her husband, with scary intensity. The cast is complete with John Charles McLaughlin, playing young Rash and an ESB utilities boy.           

‘Crackskull Row’ intertwines realism and myth, giving a homicide in Dublin the taste of a Greek tragedy. It’s a very heavy and painful story brilliantly worded by Honor Molloy and directed by Kira Simring. Expect to hear heavy Irish accents that create another layer of unique atmosphere in this show, supported by the dim lighting design by Gertland Houben and haunting sound track by M. Florian Staab.           

 ‘Crackskull Row’ runs through September 25th, Thursday & Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 3pm & 7pm, and Sunday at 3pm with additional performances Sept. 14th & 21st at 7pm. The Main Stage of the Workshop Theater at 312 West 36th Street – West of 8th Avenue – in NYC.  Tickets are $25. For more information about the show and tickets go to

Photo: Michael Bonasio