“Have you any ID, Mary?” asks one nightclub bouncer in Yasmine Akram’s new comedy. It’s a witty gag in a play archly attentive to the absurdities of small-town life, where everybody knows your name. The question is made more redundant by “Mad” Mary’s notoriety: fresh from a six-month stint in Mountjoy for a violent assault, she has returned to Drogheda not entirely rehabilitated and a local celebrity.
Engagingly funny and slight as Akram’s monologue is, it asks whether Mary knows herself quite as well as the doormen.
The economy of Darren Thornton’s brisk and breezy production for Calipo doesn’t seek to overburden this set-up with design. Mary needs a date for her friend’s wedding and, short on prospects, rattles through the services of a dating agency while parcelling out her backstory. Similarly, Kieran McNulty’s set and Sarah Jane Shiels’s lights treat Akram’s spry formula with an attractive simplicity. Day-Glo buckets line the stage and merrily collect drips from the ceiling: even a leaky roof can look lovely.
It’s precisely this line between stylised aesthetic and a more sodden reality that gives Akram’s play both its pleasures and its problems, something that her knowing subtitle acknowledges: A romantic comedy (sort of).
Some of the play is reassuringly grubby with detail, as when Akram outlines her nightclub options – a dispiriting choice between two – or catches her reflection in an undertaker’s window at the regrettable end of an evening. Other sequences are pure fantasy: the comic interjections of an elocution tape, a sage Nan with a secret romantic history, or the “meet-cute” contrivance of Mr Right’s early appearance. Then there is Mary herself, an apparently terrifying bruiser, standing before us in the warm and attractive shape of Akram. Scowling, strutting and always ready with a withering one-liner, her Mary may identify with a bear, but Akram clearly has something more vulnerable in mind. Though she wishes to portray a guarded fighter in contemporary Drogheda, the portrait is taken through a soft lens.
Akram’s narration doesn’t attempt many games with language – her best lines are demotic, chatty and blunt – but she knows her way around a good gag and how to ration out narrative, when to conceal or divulge.
Inevitably, some things register with more force: a chance encounter with the victim of her crime leaves a firmer impression because it is painted so mistily, where the play’s resolution is largely by numbers and literally escapist.
Ultimately, Akram decides her endearing aggressor is as reformed as she’ll ever be, and deserves a second chance. Besides, Mary suggests, to pursue romance you really have to be a bit mad (sort of). Additional performances be announced, see calipo.ie