Clear the Air
Theatre Upstairs, Dublin ***
Band dramas often come asunder in a cliched tangle of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, where stories of uncomplicated mateship are challenged by personality clashes, fevered egos and the malevolent outside influence of Yoko Ono.
Hugh Travers attempts a more gentle spin on the dynamic with a monologue play that casts charismatic band leader Richie (Barry O’Connor) as an ambitious musician, his feckless best friend and steadily more accomplished alcoholic Lenny (Dylan McDonough) as an almost accidental drummer, and Lenny’s sister Lisa (Margaret McAuliffe) as co-singer and, secretly, Richie’s tentative lover. In a clever feat of casting, the Yoko role is played by Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
When their music is drafted into an independent movie due to open with a splash at the Tribeca film festival, the band’s career-changing travel plans are threatened by a Yokanic ash cloud. Will Lenny accompany Richie on an overland odyssey? Will Lisa abandon this giddy thrill for her reliable job in finance? Will the uncertain lovers ever confirm their feelings for each other? And will these intercutting monologues of vivid storytelling recall anything more forcibly than early Conor McPherson?
Director Ronan Phelan maintains a steady rhythm on Zia Holly’s effective recording-studio set – they sit on amplifiers and observe each other speak – but although the monologue makes everyone a lead vocalist there’s very little dispute between their memories. “See, I remember things well,” says Lenny with a rare gesture of assertiveness that might have initiated a polyphony of competing perspectives. Instead, Travers concentrates on the love story, its least-convincing element: at one point someone is unable to distinguish between pangs of desire and possible food poisoning.
A more intriguing subtext, though, is touched upon in a broody fantasy of New York’s destruction from O’Connor’s idealistic babbler, and it distils later in McDonough’s Lenny, whose dreams and ambitions can’t resist self-sabotage and a more troubling gravity. The show opts mainly for blue-sky thinking, but it becomes more interesting when it goes up in smoke.
Until February 16th