Standing on ceremony
Ibsen meets Jerry Springer in Carmel Winters’s new play, which features infidelity, revenge and a bitterly disintegrating family
Everyman Theatre, Cork
A best man’s speech is “a cover-up story”, suggests one character in Carmel Winters’ new play. Alan should know: a stay-at-home dad and would-be novelist, he sells them online, while his estate agent wife, Kay, supports the family during an ever-escalating property boom. (The play is set mainly in 2007.)
Relationships, Alan decides – in a hesitant performance from Peter Gowen – are all defined by a couple’s first “transaction”.
Winters’ play, as caustic about Celtic tiger materialism as it is sceptical towards restrictive gender roles, seeks to unravel the mechanism of Alan and Kay’s exchange, to blow apart their cover-up story, pivoting as it does so between broad comedy and serious consequence, adult betrayal and childish recrimination.
Director Michael Barker-Caven’s production for the Everyman and Project Arts Centre seems confused.
The production has the sombre soundtrack and chiaroscuro lighting of a psychological thriller but, for the most part, dialogue as artificial as a comedy of manners. Kate Stanley Brennan’s exotic Bolivian nanny (evocatively named Marta Morales) arouses sexual intrigue, surprising betrayal and then a tangle of implausible repercussions.
The play rushes through scenes of family disintegration, sexual revenge and societal punishment that are as indebted to Ibsen as Jerry Springer.
Design, perhaps appropriately, can be as sparing as the sliding panels of Liam Doona’s set, then as fussy as Arnim Friess’s wearying video schemas (made up of architectural blueprints, children’s drawings of family homes, and footage of a doll’s house).
This makes for a frustratingly scatty experience, as though nobody can decide whether the play is a mocking comedy or a stinging social critique. Unnecessary attention is paid to clunky symbols, emotionally hollow remonstrations (one quoting liberally from an anthropological study of homosexuality in animals), while a symmetrical subplot involving Marta’s father (Bryan Murray) tries to persuade us that Brennan is more than a plot device in hot pants.
Inevitably, the production lurches towards its conclusion, with an uncomfortable (sometimes inaudible) Crotty describing a deserting mother’s vilification in an abrupt monologue, while a dénouement (“six years later”) feels so perfunctory that Barker-Caven chooses to part ways with the published text. Perhaps Best Man shouldn’t stick to the script, but it’s a shame to have trailed provocative ideas about parental responsibility, transformative desire and intolerant society, without drawing them to a fitting conclusion.