Is this depiction of one man’s crisis in faith something we can believe in?
Jennifer O’Dea, Don Wycherley and Michael Glenn Murphy in Faith. Photograph: Paul McCarthy
Civic Theatre, Dublin
When people lose faith, the classical worry is not that they believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything. The protagonist in Paul Meade’s new play for Gúna Nua, presented in association with the Civic Theatre, is like that: a blank slate.
Michael is a laid-off pharmaceutical salesman turned stay-at-home husband, mired in depression and short on self-belief. It is hard not to construe this as yet another illustration of the ceaseless crisis in masculinity, but director David Horan’s production hints at a much wider identity crisis.
That extends to Michael, an everyman and nobody, whose only distinguishing characteristics are his aching fragility and the fact he is played with customary hesitance by Don Wycherley. “I’m not the man you fell in love with,” he tells Jennifer O’Dea’s Maeve, and, indeed, we never meet that guy: our Michael is pitiable, harmless, essentially a void.
Into the void steps Chris (Michael Glenn Murphy), a man who, depending on your perspective, is either a saviour or a con-artist. He provides a job as a security guard (one of many subtle ironies), while spilling out ready answers, pseudo- science and cheap miracles. Meade creates such a secular vision of modern Ireland, where religion is never mentioned, that the play resembles a religious parable, where faith can be a source of succour or of manipulation.
Would that it were more even-handed. Chris and Maeve are defined by their relationship to Michael, with Glenn Murphy preaching impulsiveness, risk and football, and O’Dea insisting on caution, commitment and responsibility. Like Michael, that doesn’t make them feel any more like flesh-and-blood characters. In line with Michael’s suggested bipolar disorder, they are opposing extremes battling for influence, and we end up with positions and conditions, not people.
The production bears the consequences, with strange lurches in tone, from the solemn realism of earlier scenes to a near-pantomime comic crescendo en route to a much darker abstract conclusion. Those extremes are encoded in the split identity of Maree Kearns’s set, a corporate rooftop that doubles as a sitting room, where the action oscillates between the grounded and the vertiginous. Such intelligent design bears the shaping hands of its creator, as does the neatness of Meade’s writing and Horan’s brisk handling. But neither Michael nor the play have any sense of destiny or even destination. One question nags without answer: is there a point to all this? Ends Saturday, then tour s