The Walworth Farce
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
April 17, 2008
Sometimes the deep need for restitution drives us to madness. We even begin to harm those we love and protect. The characters in Enda Walsh's new play The Walworth Farce have completely lost touch with reality due to this need for atonement and we are lucky enough to have the chance to watch their madness play out in an absolutely hilarious and high energy performance.
Meet Dinny and his two sons, Blake and Sean. They live in a rundown flat in London but they miss their native Ireland. Dinny brought them here when they were very young and now he keeps them here virtually as prisoners and forces them to perform a bizarre farce. This play-within-a-play has a twisting plot with two dead bodies and a battle for an inheritance. Blake is made to play all the women's roles and Sean is made to shave the top of his head to play the balding male roles. Dinny drives the action in the farce like a steam engine, dangling the much coveted "acting trophy of the day" over his sons' heads as incentive.
The play proper is comparatively much more dramatic. It's still funny at times but in a much less outrageous manner and the story here is actually somewhat moving. Sean is the only one who really wants to break out of this vicious performance cycle but he's too cowardly to do anything about it. He goes to the store every day to buy the same items, but on this day the checkout girl, Hayley, asks him if he would like to go to the beach with her. He is so distracted by this that he takes the wrong grocery bag home with him. Hayley decides to bring the right bag up to his apartment and is conscripted into the farce by Dinny. So the question becomes, will Dinny's treatment of this girl Sean likes motivate him to action, and will he force his dad to break from the fiction to tell the truth about why they left Ireland.
Playwright Enda Walsh really knows the conventions of farce and he utilizes them all with extraordinary skill. His dialogue is a perfect combination of laugh-out-loud funny and some very subtle in-jokes. The action is filled with flamboyant physical comedy and recurring bits that will leave you in stitches. The energy pushes the needles into the red but Walsh knows just where to place a few low spots. This script is so very well crafted that I became immediately wrapped up in it even though I had no idea what was really going until sometime after intermission. When the pieces finally do start to fall into place you realize how rich the script is with emotion and character. In fact, Walsh's character development is perfectly time-released so you feel the full impact only at the very end.
Director Mikel Murfi leads a stellar cast at a breakneck pace. There are fast costume changes that are really nothing more than the pulling on of a wig or a quick flipping up and down of the bodice of a dress that doubles as an apron. Many times one actor will hold the wig of another while he steps out of the wig to play another character—and he continues to address the floating wig. Murfi conducts lot of very exaggerated movement, and dialogue in the farce is spoken as campy throwaway lines, but he balances this well with some very real moments.
Denis Conway leads this astounding cast as Dinny the father who has been trying to make up for his past actions by being so over-protective that he has become his sons' oppressor. Conway's energy bounces off the walls and reverberates throughout the theatre. The versatile Garret Lombard plays Blake and all the female characters as well. He finds little physical traits to distinguish each character, making the costume changes almost unnecessary. Tadhg Murphy plays Sean as loveable as can be. He certainly establishes some good voices for his various characters and he was the one I latched onto. Mercy Ojelade is also very endearing as Hayley.
This is one of the best plays I've seen this year. It is funny and moving and it has an amazingly talented cast. It is here only for a short run, so catch it while you can.