The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh
Ireland – Theater Review
FAMILY TRAGEDY AS FARCE
by Harvey Perr
published November 22, 2009
concludes its world tour today in Berkeley, California
As Tolstoy once said, and as has been repeated so many times without ever lapsing into cliché, all happy
families are alike and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. In the theater, families have been its blood source as far back
as the history of theater reaches. There have been happy families and unhappy families and, for reasons that should be fairly obvious by
now, it is the unhappy families we remember. The unhappy families are us. And just when you begin to think there is nothing new under
the sun to be said about the profound peculiarities of family life, along comes a playwright with a remarkably fresh vision to give new
voice to the subject of dysfunction. His name is Enda Walsh and his play, The Walworth Farce
– which has been touring the United States in the brilliant production by the Druid Theatre of Galway and was part of UCLA’s
eighth International Theatre Festival – stirs up a heady brew of dark and bitter ale that
sends us reeling out of the theater with all sorts of disturbing and emotionally contradictory feelings.
At first, it’s its nuttiness that draws you in and addles your brain simultaneously. What are three grown men
doing in this cesspool of an apartment donning wigs, changing costumes, waxing their heads, cooking giant sausages in an oven that
looks as if might explode? Are they recreating their version of a Marx Brothers film? Are they crazy? And next it’s the lyricism that
tells us that, though the apartment is in London, this is an Irish play, a language of outrage and savage wit interlaced with mad
spasms of poetry. Slowly but surely, as the play comes into focus, it becomes clear that Dinny, the eldest (Michael Glenn Murphy), has
written a play about the day his wife’s head was smashed in by a horse, and why that tragic event has brought him and his two sons to
the seedy London flat they are in, seemingly performing the play day in and day out, knowing by heart and by rote, the manic story, its
intricate cast of characters, as they prepare and eat over and over again the same meal that has been written into this bizarre and
frantic dream of a play.
One son, Blake (Raymond Scannell), plays the greatest variety of roles, including all the women, and careens
from one character to the next with the breakneck speed of the quick-change artists of old vaudeville. Sean (Tadhg Murphy) seems a
little held back, as if he knows something the play is not revealing, as if, in fact, what has not been revealed has propelled him into
a semi-catatonic state and, at the same time, has forced upon him a reasonableness that helps him maintain everyone else’s sanity. It
is Sean who leaves the house daily to buy the food. And that giant sausage turns out to be a mistake which brings a young woman (Mercy
Ojelade), who works at the checkout counter at the local market where Sean shops (and who may be attracted to Sean), to their
She, with a kind of unforced innocence, acts as we, the audience, do at what she sees. It is downright pleasure
at first, combined with confusion, but her sweet smile turns to frozen fear, as she, and we, begin to see what lies behind the farce.
To tell much more would deprive the reader of the surprises that keep the play – and the play within the play – spinning.
If this reviewer gives away too much, it is only to demonstrate what Walsh’s play has in
common with works as disparate as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesaman, Eugene O’Neill’s
Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and Harold Pinter’s The
Homecoming, to name just three of the great family dramas in theater literature: that families build their lives on lies and
deceits, refusing to look the truth in its face. And that the day of reckoning must invariably come. When the rug is lifted, the debris
that has been swept under it is laid bare. The lie in The Walworth Farce could have turned
the farce into a horror play or an authentic tragedy. Until the very moment the choice becomes irrevocable, Walsh keeps us alternately
curious, exasperated, fascinated and moved.
The actors are marvelous. And Mikel Murfi’s direction is all that Walsh could have asked for; he keeps things
moving swiftly, and he hints at the real madness without ever giving anything away. And special mention must be made of Sabine
Dargent’s corrosively crummy set, a world without walls and the most unsettling of frameworks.
The Druid is a world-class theater as anyone who has seen Garry Hynes’s productions of Martin McDonagh’s
The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of
Inishmaan and the John Millington Synge plays can attest. And, if you missed The Walworth
Farce, you can still get acquainted with their work from December 2 through 6, when UCLA brings us The New Electric Ballroom, yet another opportunity to discover or re-discover Enda Walsh, one of the
most uniquely exciting playwrights a new generation of theatergoers can proudly call their own.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com