Ardnaglass on the Air
nytheatre.com review by Aimee Todoroff
September 18, 2010
Hugh Francis O' Connell, lovelorn pig farmer, and Margaret Mary Rose O'Boyle, Barmaid of the Year, are behind the microphone again, ready to tell it like it is to anyone who will listen. Anyone, that is, within broadcast range of community radio station 101 FM or 23 AM, which happens to be located in Mickey Madden's mother's garage, which also happens to be located in the almost non-existent rural town of Ardnaglass, Northern Ireland. Through their radio program, "Ardnaglass on the Air," the team of Hugh Francis and Margaret Mary, along with their crack field reporter Maureen Brehony Brady, calling in her breaking news of tractor accidents and sandwich availability via walkie-talkie, makes sure their community stays as close-knit as Donegal tweed. Unfortunately, these airwaves have too much static and what promises to be a charming story gets lost in a production fraught with confusion.
The play begins with the entrance of Fabian Martinez, BBC intern and reluctant international man of mystery, who has literally wandered into the radio studio/garage and ends up staying awhile. His arrival eventually rekindles dreams of a world beyond Ardnaglass for both Hugh Francis and Margaret Mary. Despite a series of anecdotes and bits of local color (often blue) that keep the audience laughing, nothing really happens until halfway through the play when we learn of a potential love triangle, but alas, all potential fizzles before it has a chance to spark.
The two leads are both charming in their roles, and play off each other with a comfortable comic timing. Jo Kinsella is especially enjoyable as Margaret Mary Rose O'Boyle, infusing the character with the rare vibrancy of a woman deeply wounded by life but who refuses to stop enjoying it. Playwright Jimmy Kerr reliably delivers laughs as Hugh Francis. As Fabian Martinez, Jonathan Judge-Russo has the unenviable task of playing a character that seems nervous throughout the whole play for a reason the audience is never quite let in on, and though his Argentinean accent grows stronger as the show goes on, the choice to have his character sipping almost constantly from a bottle of Jose Cuervo seemed to promote a negative stereotype while doing nothing to advance the plot or our understanding of the character. Still, Judge-Russo's commitment to a difficult role is admirable, and his deadpan sincerity facilitates some of the biggest laughs of the show.
Despite generally unfocused direction, there are stand-out moments of comedy reminiscent of an Abbott and Costello sketch, with rapid-fire wordplay and subtext clearly based on a deep understanding of the world these characters inhabit. Usually, the technical elements of a production have a strong hand in clarifying the world of the play for the audience. Unfortunately, the opportunity was missed, and while the design team displayed an impressive level of creativity, certain elements (the fireplace in the garage, the Glee soundtrack), seemed out of place and added even more confusion to an already muddled production.
Ardnaglass on the Air is presented as part of the third annual 1st Irish Festival, which is dedicated to celebrating new works by Irish playwrights and the only festival of its kind in NYC. Despite some difficulties with this particular production, playwright Jimmy Kerr has brought an ultimately unique and authentically Irish voice to the New York stage.