Thursday, July 12, 2018

45 (2018-2019): Review: GET THE BOAT and INNIT

"When Irish Eyes Are Sleeping"

Get the Boat and Innit are one-act plays by Irish female playwrights being given in alternating repertory at the SoHo Playhouse. It’s unclear why these sleep-inducing plays, each running less than 50 minutes, aren’t on the same bill. While both are far too tepidly written and produced to attract a crowd on their own, a double bill might have served as more of an audience inducement. Fortunately, I was able to see both on the same night, one of the few on which they’re being offered, in tandem. 
Eavan Brennan, Siohan Donnellan. 
Get the Boat, by Eavan Brennan, had a curtain time of 6:30 (delayed by around 10 minutes), letting out around 7:20, while Innit, by Colette Forde, went on at 8:30. Anyone attending both had a large chunk of time to kill in SoHo between the two pieces. This odd arrangement was made even odder by the failure to provide even the flimsiest of programs. Thus visitors without benefit of a press representative have no idea of the writers’ backgrounds, or even the names and contributions of anyone else involved. 

Both plays come to New York from the Limerick Fringe Festival, and both are given minimal, aesthetically starved physical productions. Get the Boat is a two-hander featuring playwright Brennan and Siohan Donnellan, but as even the press announcement doesn’t say who plays whom, I had to go online to determine that Brennan is Bridget and Donnellan is Grainne.

Before the play proper begins, a brief video compilation is shown highlighting the abortion controversy in Ireland, which recently led to the passing, by a resounding vote, of a referendum legalizing the procedure in that firmly Roman Catholic nation. Get the Boat was written before the referendum so it’s already a bit dated, but its central concern still has relevance when it comes to the human—as opposed to the legal or religious—side of the subject. With abortion again a hot topic on this side of the pond (the recent Supreme Court nomination, of course), a play about abortion couldn’t be timelier.
Eavan Brennan, Siohan Donnellan.
Get the Boat has a potentially interesting topic: two young women meet in a cabin on a ferry presumably taking them to England (no destination is mentioned) to legally obtain abortions; they argue over their respective reasons for doing so. These strangers, friendly and supportive at first, eventually clash: Grainne, a married woman and mother whose fetus is horribly malformed and perhaps even dying, gets angry when she learns that Bridget, a single mom, is going to abort a healthy child because of her dire financial circumstances. And that’s about it.

Whatever dramatic germ this material holds is crushed by the actresses’ lethargic performances. Although both seem superficially natural, they practically whisper their conversations, show no sense of urgency, only briefly display any theatrical energy, and make their turtle-paced 45 minutes or so seem twice as long. Zzzz.

I assumed that the play was self-directed, although direction of any kind seems little more than an afterthought. I subsequently discovered that a Ruth Smith staged it, which doesn’t remove the fact that weak direction may be the play’s greatest drawback, given that the material deserves better than what it’s presently getting.

Innit, Collette Forde’s one-woman play, also features its writer, who was born in Ireland but raised in Manchester; it, too, fails to a considerable degree from the lack of directorial shaping. An episodic piece, it reveals an angst-ridden, trash-talking, Manchester, England, teenager named Kelly Roberts spilling her guts to a psychologist (“psychiologist,” in her vernacular). The play has multiple, clumsily lit (uncredited, of course) blackouts during which Kelly stands behind a screen so her backlit silhouette can be seen dancing to the driving beat of pop music 
 Colette Forde.

Following a professionally produced video of Forde as the lead singer of a pop-rock band called Snidey Beatz (whose purpose, other than showing Forde’s musical skills, escapes me), we meet Kelly, a grungy girl with a sloppy hair bun, wearing a Catholic school uniform of black miniskirt and white blouse and black tie, part of her blouse perpetually hanging loose, untucked.

Colette Forde.
In each of half a dozen brief sessions with her school shrink she expostulates in brick-thick, vividly colored, Mancunian accent and slang (the title means “Isn’t it?”) about her sexual experiences, including the liberties (short of intercourse) she lets the lads take in exchange for smokes (fags); her conflicts and jealousies with her “dickhead” schoolmates; her place in the school choir and her singing aspirations; her fears of inadequacy and her insecurities about her looks; and her boozing, neglectful dad, long separated from her neurotic, nagging, stingy mam (“a daft bitch and she dresses like a tramp”), whom she’s afraid of one day becoming.
Colette Forde.
Kelly’s monologue, delivered almost entirely in an underwhelmingly disconnected tone, is frequently accompanied by a disdainful, goggle-eyed, mouth agape expression (like “duh”). There’s no plotline at all, merely the ongoing confessions of an alienated girl with implausibly adroit verbal skills.
Colette Forde.
Not once is there the sense of another presence, asking questions or reacting to her. We understand the girl’s pain but, because of Forde’s monotonous delivery, feel none of it on a gut level. Except, that is, for the end, when Kelly prepares for bed, loosens her hair, and lies down in a fetal position.

It was during those few silent moments, when Kelly’s sadness and despair burst through more sharply than anything else in either play, that I was grateful not to have been tempted to close my eyes.


SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam St., NYC
Through August 5