Confessions of An Irish Publican
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
November 12, 2008
While the current version of Confessions of an Irish Publican feels very much like a workshop and in need of further revision to the text, it is a pleasure to watch an actor of Des Keogh's experience at work.
Presented in the intimate and pleasant W. Scott McLucas Studio Theater at Irish Rep, this one-man show adapts the work of Kerry writer and publican, John B. Keane. A publican is the person who runs the local pub and hence is in the know of most goings-on. However, this piece is mostly concerned with the romantic life of the publican and how that plays out. Our man is a bachelor of around 40 who finds himself suddenly and devastatingly in love with an 18-year-old school girl at the local convent. He is also the goal of a force of nature Dublin lawyer, Grace, who has set her sights on him regardless of his opinion of the matter. While largely the reminiscences of the publican regarding this part of his life, the piece also utilizes characters from the local village, including the parish priest, a cursing closet drinker, Mother Superior of the convent, his friend Plather (who's slept with a mermaid), and Grace herself. Told through a series of letters to a friend, the piece alternates between storytelling and present-time speeches by the characters themselves. A fair amount of time is covered and much of the local culture is explored before our man finds his life settled for him and himself set up well.
As the actor Des Keogh is older than the publican is when the events of the piece take place, having him read the starts of letters works to bring the audience a sense of going back to this time. But there's little sense of him now and how he feels about looking back, which could add much to the feeling of wholeness for the play. As it stands, Confessions of an Irish Publican is unwieldy and can meander. The piece is so devoted to conveying the entire village-scape, as well as honoring bits in Keane's writing that Keogh seems to have particular affection for, that it overwhelms itself. Keogh's considerable talents are strained by the weight of accountability to material that isn't always that interesting. The closet drinker who buys bottles of stout "for her porter cake" is amusing but does nothing to further the story nor does she enrich it. Strongly trimmed, this piece could have a nice balance between the dictatorial parish priest and the highly-connected-to-the-community Mother Superior to give a sense of the place, and then the Mother Superior and Plather as the protagonists for either side of the Publican's affections. Because the thread of the whole piece is the Publican's romances, the conflicts—between reality and daydream, and how himself is clueless to what is going on and who the women in his life truly are—are muddied by the extraneous and disconnected detail that is also being presented.
Despite the unfinished state of the work, Keogh is a fine actor and it is enjoyable to experience his skills in Confessions of an Irish Publican. It would be a delight to see him in a revised and condensed version that showed him off better.