Every single night, a father demands that he and his two sons re-enact what happened to them during their hasty departure from Ireland.
Inis Nua Theatre Company concludes its eighth season with Director Tom Reing’s stylish production of playwright Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce.
Walsh’s bizarre tale takes place in a rundown London tenement (Meghan Jones’ set is so exaggeratedly shabby it makes a condemned row house seem palatial by comparison) occupied by Dinny (Bill Van Horn in the finest performance of his long career) and his two sons, Blake (Harry Smith) and Sean (Jake Blouch).
Conceived by Dinny as a way to explain the family’s flight from Ireland, every night the three re-enact the events that led to their hasty departure. Too young to clearly remember all the details, all Blake and Sean know about that night comes from Dinny’s account. A stickler for details, Dinny serves as the director and plays himself in their nightly farce. The older son, Blake, portrays all the female characters; Sean plays the men, and is also responsible for procuring the essential props for each night’s show. As an added incentive, the evening is capped off with the presentation of an “acting trophy” to that evening’s finest performer. Dinny is the judge—and also the only recipient of the award.
The macabre farce the family performs each night is as strange as it is complicated.
The only member of the family who leaves the flat is Sean, who makes a daily trip to the supermarket to fetch the props for that evening’s performance (roast chicken figures prominently in their little production and doubles as the family’s dinner). They have maintained this exact routine for 20 years. They clearly follow the creed that the show must go on.
The turning point in Walworth comes late in the first act with the arrival of a visitor named Haley (Leslie Nevon Holden). Sean mistakenly brought home the wrong bag from his day’s shopping, and Haley, who works at the market and has a crush on Sean, has helpfully shown up with the missing groceries. Haley’s unanticipated appearance heightens the already palpable sense of tension and foreboding that has been building throughout Walworth’s first act, and while the play’s conclusion is surprising, in retrospect it is also inevitable.
The details in Dinny’s story never change, but Sean eventually questions the tale’s veracity. “Is any of this story real?” he hesitantly asks his father. “It’s my truth,” Dinny replies defiantly. Adding as perhaps a way of justifying his version of the events, “We’re making a routine here to keep the family safe.”
Like an OCD sufferer who relies on routine to give a sense of order to their lives, the family’s nightly performances are a safe harbor in a city they view as being both hostile and foreign. Incapable of facing the horrors of his past, Dinny draws on the Irish legacy of storytelling to create an alternate history where he is the hero of the story and Ireland is a magical land filled with green pastures.
Unfortunately, the fantasy life Dinny has constructed for his sons comes at a considerable cost. Dinny’s farce has a dehumanizing effect on them. Under Dinny’s dictatorial direction, Blake and Sean are forced to repress their own identity and adapt the fictional roles prescribed by their father. Like an actor who plays the same role night after night, year after year, the sons have never had the opportunity to develop a sense of self. The farce has become their reality.
Through May 27. $20-$25. First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom St. 215.454.9776. inisnuatheatre.org