My Brilliant Divorce
The oddest sound in Druid's production of Geraldine Aron's new play is not the explosion of fireworks on stage. It is not even the exotic birdsong that trills out from the ornithological clock that hangs over the stage. It is a sound that in most Druid productions would seem entirely familiar: the voice of Marie Mullen.
Mullen is heard on the phone and in voice-over as the Galway mother of the only onstage character, the 30-something window-dresser Angela Kennedy-Lipsky. Her presence, both as actor and as character, serves not to locate the evening - a Druid show by a Galway-born writer - but to emphasise its sense of being placeless. You don't believe for a moment that Angela, who describes herself early on as Irish-American, has a salt-of-the-earth old mammy living in the Claddagh.
The effort to convince us that she has suggests an anxiety about answering the question: "Why are we doing this here and now?" The simple, and in some ways sufficient, answer is that Aron is the writer with whom Druid has the longest and most continuous relationship. If the company's identity is much more strongly shaped by its encounters with Synge, Murphy and McDonagh, the link with Aron goes back a quarter of a century.
The fascination of the connection lies partly in the attraction of opposites. The soft, nostalgic, gentle sensibility of Aron's writing rubbing up against the relentless, uncompromising vision of Garry Hynes's direction has produced some unlikely sparks. The ground on which they have met, though, has generally been Galway itself. In My Brilliant Divorce there is no such ground to stand on. Aside from the rather strained presence of the unlikely mammy, we could be anywhere. Angela is played, splendidly, by the American actress Glenne Headly. The action she describes - the death and afterlife of her marriage - is set mostly in London. The offstage characters she evokes are Mexican, Croatian, Serbian and English.
This matters, not because Irish audiences need to be seduced with local colour, but because the story is also rather generic. Without the charge that comes from a shared sense of place, there is very little for Hynes to knock sparks off.
Aron's text is polished, elegant and studded with pearls of dry, laconic wit. It also feels like one of those clever high-class US sitcoms. Anyone who watches Frasier or Will & Grace will be at home with the brisk, wisecracking melancholy of Angela's journey through the post-marital wasteland. And with the ultimate sense of safety that surrounds any moment of disturbance. Whenever we approach anything like pain, there is a penis joke or a vibrator joke to provide a safely risquΘ distraction. It is all very amusing, highly accomplished and rather forgettable.
Headley is too much of a virtuoso performer to let us linger on the absence of any great substance. She skates over the thin ice as if it were an Olympic rink. She is ditzy enough to project Angela's girlish charm but supple and energetic enough to stop it becoming irritating. She holds the stage with sufficient force to make much of the phenomenally complex stage business with exotic birds, flying furniture and pyrotechnics seem just a little overanxious.
Which is not to say that the show might not have been more at home in the intimate spaces of the old Druid Lane theatre, where the warmth and charm of Aron's previous plays fitted so snugly. As it is, in the plusher space of the Town Hall Theatre, My Brilliant Divorce is never less than a very capable piece of theatre and seldom more than an amusing one.
Ends December 8th; book at 091-569777