Andrew’s Lane Theatre, Dublin
February 28-March 24, 2007, touring Ireland through May 12
by Paul Meade and David Parnell
Directed by Paul Meade
Starring Tom Murphy and Gerry McCann
Its intriguing title aside, this is a disappointingly lightweight and exceedingly obvious play from Gúna Nua, an otherwise consistently interesting Irish production company, here presenting their latest venture in collaboration with the Civic Theatre, Tallaght and Origin Theatre Company, New York.
Gúna Nua’s usual modus operandus is to take a familiar scenario or a familiar text and give a contemporary, edgy spin. Taste (reviewed here on culturevulture.net) was an marvelous take on Macbeth set in Celtic Tiger Ireland that amazingly managed to disguise its textual origin until comparatively late in the proceedings, adding to its power. Their more recent production Thesis wrapped itself around both The Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses in telling the story of an academic researcher on a journey of his own. Trousers, on the other hand, takes a painfully routine story of thirtysomething men in a mid-life crisis reflecting on their past and runs with it in a routine way.
Dermot (Tom Murphy) is doing okay. He is not in an especially glamourous job (he’s a mailman), and he lives alone, but he has quit drinking, is living a clean and healthy life, and he’s working on finding himself a girlfriend. His friend, Mick (Gerry McGann), is doing less well. Arriving unexpectedly one day at Dermot’s apartment after a long period without contact, he reveals he has been kicked out for good by his wife and he has nowhere to go.
One can almost hear Neal Hefti’s signature theme music from The Odd Couple as the set up unfolds. The central dynamic of Simon’s classic scenario is certainly played out - messy one / neat one, as is the rather melancholy tone of the original work. Meade and Parnell do provide a small wrinkle by utilising flashbacks (signalled by simple but effective lighting changes to the Laura Howe’s set) to the duo’s earlier days as students working for the Summer in New York, when the roles were reversed. In New York, Dermot was slim, confident, and together and Dermot a long-haired, uncertain mess who idolised Mick’s focus and drive.
In spite of playwright John Breen’s amusing observations in the programme to the effect that trousers (pants) play no significant role in the play, they are in fact the central (again obvious) metaphorical object here. The ownership and loan of a pair of trousers becomes a very important point of focus (trousers lent in New York become a symbol of transference and friendship). Unfortunately that is about as rich as the play becomes on a textual level. The rest is all about execution.
On this level, the play is engaging. Murphy and McGann are both credible and sympathetic in their roles. The actors brilliantly convey the shifting hues of this relationship, from the awkward re-introduction at the beginning through the flashbacks and the role reversal counter-pointing them to the final, upbeat movement towards a new sense of self for both men in the light of their present experiences with one another. Howe’s set frames the action neatly, suggesting a simply furnished apartment with lots of shelving at first, but doubling with ease as the New York skyline (complete with Twin Towers) when Mark Galione’s lighting throws rows of lights onto the blank shelves and other furniture-like structures and turns them into skyscrapers at night. There is also a great soundtrack of 1980s hits played on Dermot’s DJ turntable, and the whole thing moves along at a steady, if not brisk, pace in Meade’s directorial hands, lasting no more than 90 minutes in total with no interval.
It is too easy to be blasé about entertaining theatre, and it is impossible to avoid the stain of high culture snobbery when a critic is compelled to observe that for the average theatre goer, a play like this provides a good evening’s fun, but nothing more. This is, however, the case with Trousers, an enjoyable, inconsequential evening’s light entertainment that is by no means either bad art of bad craft, but that just lacks any semblance of the edge that has distinguished the work of this company to date. Does that mean you can’t enjoy it? No: but it may affect the level to which you do.