The Royal Wedding and the death of international terrorist Osama bin Laden were the two leading news stories this past weekend. Funnily enough, royalty and terrorism find a vaudevilian intersection in Inis Nua’s ambitious latest production, the American premier of DUBLIN BY LAMPLIGHT, now onstage at the Broad Street Ministries.
DUBLIN BY LAMPLIGHT takes place on a single day in 1904. King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and Ireland is visiting the Irish capital and the streets are decked out in blue, red, and white bunting, just as they were in London this past Friday. But not everyone is a jolly royalist spirit. Playwright Willy Hayes (Charlie DelMarcelle) is getting ready to open a new theater, “the Irish National Theatre of Ireland” with his revolutionary-minded brother Frank (Jared Michael Delaney) and their actor friends.
The fictional playhouse (loosely based on the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which celebrated its centennial in 2004) faces a series of setbacks as it prepares the opening of Willy’s magnum opus, The Wooing of Emer, based on the mythical Irish folk hero Cúchulainn. The landlord wants money Willy does not have; authorities are questioning the political implications of the production; socialite actress Eva St. John (Megan Bellwoar) is distracted by her fight for suffrage and nationalism; and pregnant dressmaker Maggie (Sarah Van Auken) shrugs off the attention of stagehand Jimmy (Kevin Meehan) because she’s in love with the hard-drinking Frank.
Presented in Commedia dell’Arte style (painted faces, self-narrated action, some wonderfully choreographed miming, and generally farcical melodrama), DUBLIN BY LAMPLIGHT works best at the beginning of the second act, when it provides a backstage peek of the play within a play. The nicely adaptable set (design by Lisi Stoessel) opens onto a beautifully rendered backdrop of an audience. Here, as elsewhere, Mike Dees shines as a campy thespian who maintains his art as chaos surrounds the production. In this extended scene the Commedia style perfectly fits the comedy of putting together a makeshift show.
At other times, the humor and inventiveness fail to carry a story more appealing to Irish than American audiences. A central plot line revolves around Frank neglecting his acting duties because he plans to assassinate the King and murder celebrating civilians with the explosives he’s carrying around in an old suitcase. On a weekend that reminded us of more contemporary terrorism and brought us the delights of royal ceremony, a regicidal hero is never going to inspire sympathy. Although well staged, the play misses a powerful opportunity to use the farce of Commedia to expose the farce of politically inspired murder.
DUBLIN BY LAMPLIGHT is part of the Philadelphia Irish Theatre Festival, which has seen six Philly companies stage contemporary plays from the Emerald Isle. Just as the Philly Fringe adds to the charm of the Live Arts festival, Brat Productions is bringing a dive bar joy to the Irish Festival, presenting four short bar tales by Conor McPherson and Mark O’Rourke in repertory from May 8 through 16 at Fergies Pub in Center City. See the Brat website for more information.
DUBLIN BY LAMPLIGHT
by Michael West
Directed by Tom Reing
April 26 – May 14, 2011
Inis Nua Theatre
at the Broad Street Ministries
315 South Broad Street