Review: Chapatti

An American-Irish co-production of Christian O’Reilly’s Dublin-set play brings unfamiliar accents and suprisingly sour notes to a familiar genre

John Mahoney and Penny Slusher

John Mahoney and Penny Slusher

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 16:33


Town Hall Theatre, Galway



Within Christian O’Reilly’s two-hander monologue play is a brief story that explains the title. Dan, a bereaved Dublin retiree, recalls the building sites of London, where he acquired a taste for Indian food and a stray pup he named after the flatbread. At home, Dan calls him simply Chap, as though an initial attraction to the distant and exotic finally ceded to a desire for something more familiar.

Something similar has happened with Northlight Theatre’s co-production with Galway International Arts Festival, directed by BJ Jones, which premiered earlier this year in Chicago. Its vision of contemporary Dublin, from Jack Magaw’s design to its performances, reaches for earthy authenticity – the salty good humour of upbeat strugglers – but sands it down into something more comfortable. This can make for strange viewing for an audience closer to its source, who will recognise John Mahoney’s costume of smart slacks and pristine white sneakers more as an American senior than a Dublin codger, and will not recognise his accent at all.

The time is the present, but the furnishings, including a kitchen dresser and iron bed frame, suggest a more Joycean image against a backdrop of Glasnevin Cemetery, where Dan, drained of joy, spends his days. On a mission to find a new home for his dog before “moving on”, he encounters another lonely soul, Penny Slusher’s Betty, warm-hearted and gregarious, who cares for a cantankerous old woman, any number of cats and a box of new kittens. Can a dog lover and a cat lady meet and strike up a rapport? Hazard a guess.

The more surprising element of this superannuated romcom, however, is how it folds a sour subject into cutesy conventions. Dan, it is abundantly clear, has his sights set on the hereafter via an implausibly violent (but theatrically visual) method. The play sees suicidal intention and depression as little more than a plot device, and the laws of genre make it, in Betty’s eyes, less a tragedy than a challenge: “Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?” she asks coyly. “Or do you have more permanent plans?”

With what seriousness, then, should we regard the premise, the characters or the consequence? Not much, it seems. To judge from the more touching presentation of Betty’s sexuality and her realisation of herself as something more than a frumpy cat lover, it is her acknowledgment of desire that the production actually regards as live-saving. It is also why the show belongs to Sluther, who uses her self-deprecating monologues and nimble endearing gestures to seduce both Dan and the audience.

If your sensibilities don’t snag on the trivialisation of social issues, her story becomes the main course. Even with Mahoney’s charismatic gruffness, his character’s predicament, like an Indian flatbread, is just for starters.

Until July 27

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