Civic Theatre, Tallaght

Set in New York four months after 9/11, Arnold Thomas Fanning’s new work for Focus Theatre is, in both form and content, a play about wrecks. Unemployed and in emotional disarray now that their window-cleaning services at the World Trade Centre are no longer required, Taidgh and Hed are two Irish illegal aliens living in a squalid apartment.

Engagingly played by Shane Gately, Taidgh is all physical impulse – a complaining workhorse full of appetites and schemes – while Thomas Farrell’s Hed is a prissy and affected eccentric, unable to leave the apartment (he wears a vintage leather flight hat and speaks with the unidiomatic English of someone raised by butlers).

In some ways it’s an odd-couple relationship between a go-getter and a no-hoper in desperate circumstances: work has dried up and increased security has pushed illegal immigrants deeper underground.

But Fanning’s play veers away from that political context towards an absurdist comedy of wandering ideas at the expense of plot, progression and ultimately consequence. Hed types out paraphrased excerpts from HG Wells’s War of the Worlds over the sound of crashing second World War bombers, and both the world and the play seem to have become equally mangled.

Sonia Haccius’s set finds something illustrative in detritus, recreating the jagged New York skyline in artful shadows, under Colm Maher’s lights, from the junk that Taidgh fishes from dumpsters.

But while there are heady ideas here involving the split personalities of the duo and the slippery status of their reality, they become lost in a jumble of references (“Ireland is a nightmare I have to wake up from”) and a script that idles in comic sequences better suited to a sketch show.

Like a Beckettian double act, they are passing the time, but the play also fidgets through perfunctory plot points involving an illicit club and a mysterious caller asking for someone called “Griswold”, as though unsure of itself. By the time director Joe Devlin has Gately directly address the audience during Farrell’s vaudeville recreation of his school days, the play becomes so scattergun that it misses both subversion and depth. That’s a shame as there are deeper anxieties here about cultural paranoia and the threat of American assimilation in search of more absorbing symbols. Not the elusive Griswold, perhaps, but a more recognisably transformed grisly world.

Ends Saturday, then at the New Theatre, July 16th-21st