Saturday, March 14, 2009

Everything old is new again

Tim Ruddy in Swansong.

The new Tír Na Theatre Company (which I think translates as "land-of," kind of) is wrapping a double bill this weekend at the BCA with up-and-coming Irish playwright Conor McDermottroe's Swansong and The Bottom of the Lake. Both productions are quite accomplished, although both scripts are somewhat derivative. McDermottroe channels that other Conor, Conor McPherson, in The Bottom of the Lake, which awkwardly welds supernaturalism to wry generational comedy - while the longer, more ambitious Swansong, a grimily picaresque tale of a local boy-gone-bad, owes rather too much to Roddy Doyle.

As you can probably tell, I don't feel McDermottroe actually adds that much to the genres in which he's working. Still, even if this young playwright is just spreading his wings rather than taking flight on his own, it's clear he can, indeed, get airborne; both plays held the audience with subtle skill, and both pieces received thoughtful, perceptive performances here. The man behind the double bill was actor Tim Ruddy (above), who performed Swansong and directed Lake (although it seems local actor Colin Hamell may be the driving force behind Tír Na). Both Ruddy's direction and his acting were remarkably assured, even if he didn't reach the redemptive depths that Swansong might, actually, be teased into conjuring. What was more interesting was that his performance felt so lived-in; my guess was that Ruddy had done the play before, perhaps many times, and sure enough, with a little searching on the Intertubes, I discovered it's kind of a signature touring piece for him.

Indeed, Tír Na seems to be modeled as a kind of touring company, with Boston merely one of its stops - it's linked to the Irish Theatre Group in Brussels, of all places, and has performed there and in New York. It almost tickled me to see the ancient paradigm of the itinerant theatrical troupe updated to the present day; in a way, this group's business model is more interesting than its material. The challenge for such a troupe, of course, is not becoming locked within the confines of audience-pleasing genre. Let's hope as Tír Na expands its performance horizons, it (and McDermottroe) will seek broader artistic horizons as well; both certainly have the talent to.

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