The Parting Glass
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
July 22, 2010
The muted clamor of a hectic airport plays overhead as a middle-aged man steps onto the empty stage; the soundtrack for a person at a great transition in his life. "People change, countries change, marriages change," this poignant monologue show avows, and I feel fortunate to have witnessed the journey. Presented by Irish company axis: Ballymun, The Parting Glass chronicles an Irishman's return home, or to whatever is left of home. An exquisite meeting of humor and tragedy, this play is a symphony of feeling, often reaching its most heart-rending pitch in the middle of a hilarious joke.
20 years ago, Dermot Bolger wrote In High Germany, which chronicles the life of a young Irish emigrant, Eoin. This standalone sequel features the same protagonist, 20 years later, with whiplash clever wife and preternaturally wise son in tow, coming back from Germany to reclaim his father's dream of Ireland. Director/sound designer Mark O'Brien wisely uses a light touch, allowing the brilliant performance and blissful words to paint the vivid picture. Ray Yeates as Eoin is luminous. His mobile expressions and lively inflection convey the voices of varied family and friends and capture the nuances of Bolger's script beautifully.
On Robert Ballagh's minimal set, illuminated by Conleth White's effective muted lighting, Bolger's words take flight. Transitioning back and forth between the past and the present with deceptive ease, The Parting Glass expertly carries us through 44 years of an ordinary man's life. The opening scene finds Eoin in Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2007, meeting his son, Dieter, his oldest friend, Shane, and an urn containing the ashes of their best friend, Mick, only to witness Ireland get cheated out of a place in the World Cup finals by a French foul play. Paralleling the boom and bust of Ireland's economy with the country's football (soccer) travails over the years, Eoin chronicles the many losses in his life with wit, humor, and understated poignancy. Eoin's father once lost his job and his dreams of his homeland, and many years later, Eoin faces the same plight. He finds himself in an Ireland he doesn't recognize; one that belongs to immigrants, cheap houses, and bankers. In a heartbreaking scene, we even listen to Eoin lose his wife, Frieda, to a car accident in Ireland's newly congested, hectic traffic. Through it all, Eoin's boundless love for his wife, son, and country is palpable. Often, the only thread binding Eoin to Ireland and to his longtime friends, Shane, divorced and living in the Netherlands, and Mick, a gay, illegal immigrant living in New York, is football. Even this avid sports unenthusiast was swept up in the edge-of-your-seat excitement of the match and the hilarious disposal of Mick's ashes that follows.
The final scene finds Eoin where he started; at the airport returning to Ireland, and to the new woman he is seeing, Laima, a Latvian immigrant, who represents a way for him to come through his grief and loss to the possibilities of a new Ireland and new love in the "halftime" of his life's game. No matter what stage of life you are in or what nationality you are—or how you feel about football—The Parting Glass will resonate with you. This is the sort of work that cuts through to the heart of human experience, across all boundaries. Its run in the undergroundzero festival is limited so don't miss your chance to see it now.