Enda Walsh Redux, Redux, and a Little Edward Albee (11 cents)

OK, so my initial experiences with Enda Walsh was mixed. I first saw his most recent one-act play, Penelope, loosely based on the suitors trying to win Penelope’s hand prior to the surprise return of Odysseus to his home, and I was itching to get out of the theater. I couldn’t figure out why the four suitors were wearing speedos and bathrobes, or why they were having a barbecue in a drained swimming pool accompanied by music clips of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Worse than that, as they each gave their soliloquies explaining (pleading) why Penelope should accept their love, I didn’t understand anything they were saying. I got the words all right, but what the hell did it all mean?

So, when we went to see The New Electric Ballroom, I was prepared for a repeat of my discomfort. But when I saw the three sisters stuck in their house with only the fishmonger visit bringing contact with the outside world (well, the younger sister did have a job in a fish packing out, cycled there and right back), and I saw that the fishmonger, who was out and about all day, every day, was equally lonely and disconnected from the world as the sisters, who could only look back at missed opportunities at the Electric Ballroom years ago, I got it. And when you added the humor, and emotional intensity, I surprised myself at thinking I had just seen a wonderful play.

And of course, I saw the similarities at least with the circumstances in which the characters of the two plays found themselves, and realized that, to some extent, I had seen the same play twice (although one version was much, much more to my liking).

But then it came time to see The Walworth Farce.

Lo and Behold, I was now seeing the same play the third time. But this version, instead of three sisters, and a father and his two sons, living in London on the 16th floor (walk-up) of the British equivalent of public housing, again cut off from the outside world, except for the younger son, who every day went grocery shopping. No fishmonger here, but the checkout lady from the Tesco store came to visit because the son had picked up the wrong grocery bag and she was bringing him the right one.

Of course, she did not know what she was getting into. The Walworth Farce is of course billed as a farce, and I guess it is, although it turns tragic (to a greater extent than the other two). But basically it’s the Three Stooges meet Monte Python, as the father ( a former actor) has his sons play along with him several scripts over and over again, changing costumes and characters as they go, so that their ridiculous unreality seems as real as their constrained reality.

So in each play we have physical and psychological isolation, failed lives, outsiders coming in and getting caught up in the unreality of the house, hope, followed by defeat brought about by fear. You also have continual costume changes, wigs, specific background music, and what appears to be a good dose of Irish theatrical craziness.

I really didn’t care for Walworth while I was watching it. But in retrospect, one or two days later, it certainly has stuck with me, something that Penelope could not do.

So, I appreciate Enda Walsh, but wonder how long he can keep writing the same play before everyone notices.

OK, a little Albee. Several weeks ago, we saw two Albee plays, one Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and the other At Home at the Zoo (an expansion of his Zoo Story), all part of Arena Stage’s 30 play Albee festival. Virginia Woolf was spectacular, and I had mixed thoughts about At Home at the Zoo. The remaining 28 plays were done as staged readings – we could not get to most, but we did get to Malcolm, because we knew some of the participants.

Malcolm is a weird one – a 15 (or so, no one knows for sure) spends all of his time sitting on a park bench, waiting for his father to return (he has been gone for several years, or maybe he didn’t ever exist), when an astrologer (Mr. Cox) befriends him and orders him to visit two of his friends at specific times. Both are couples, one distinguished by their wealth, the other by the difference in ages between the young, ex-hooker wife and the aging husband. He complies, he sees two marriages fall apart oddly, and he befriends the older husband, and the rich couple, who invite him to come spend the summer with them at their country estate. While Malcolm is waiting for the couple to come (were they purposely not coming?), a thuggish and seemingly dumb guy picks him up to bring him to Melba, his boss (and ex-wife), who is a famous singer and wants a new husband. Did he know he was going to get Malcolm, or was this a case of mistaken identity? Never clear. But now Malcolm and Melba are married, and he gets initiated into sex so thoroughly that he dies of too much sex. Everyone comes to his funeral.

Now, it’s not surprising that you have never seen this not very good play – I doubt it is ever performed. In some ways, it’s a not very good version of Candide, I guess. But perhaps it’s also a twist on Enda Walsh – people stuck in their own ruts, mixtures of reality and utter unreality, characters unable to change their fate, some comedy at the start, but tragedy wins out.

Perhaps this is just the human condition.

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