Undramatic Irish shaggy dog story at Ambler theater

Local Life April 8, 2011 0 Comments

by Clarke Groome

Sebastian Barry’s “The Pride of Parnell Street” is the Irish version of a shaggy dog story: it takes a long time to make its point. Typical of Irish plays, the mood is somber at best, and the characters are often sad and downtrodden. Also typical of the Irish, their spirit is always strong.

“The Pride of Parnell Street,” which is getting its America premiere through April 17 at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse, is a series of alternating monologues by Janet Brady (Kittson O’Neill) and her husband Joe (David Whelan).

Their life together starts out well — they adore each other and their three boys — but deteriorates after two things happen: their oldest son is killed in an automobile accident at age 6, and the Irish soccer team is eliminated from World Cup competition in the late 1980s.

After the latter Joe comes home — for once sober — and seeing that his wife was wearing his favorite team’s jersey, he beats the bejeezus out of her for reasons never made clear. She flees to her parents’ house with the two surviving sons. Joe’s life deteriorates. He ends up in jail as an accessory to a murder. He also becomes a drug addict. The play is set in 1999 Dublin, so when he gets sick from dirty needles, one can only assume that the virus he gets is HIV.

Back and forth the monologues go. Well written and well delivered, they illuminate the characters and their situation, both past and present. What they aren’t, at least to my eye and ear, is very dramatic.

Director Harriet Power does a good job keeping her actors moving when they are speaking, and the acting is superb. In spite of that, for the first 85 minutes of the 90-minute one-act, it’s all pretty static. In those last five minutes the two characters actually connect in Joe’s hospital room. He — again it’s inexplicable to me — not only reports what he’s saying but what Janet, standing right there, is saying as well. Go figure.

Playwright Barry is a talented writer who has created two interesting Irish characters. I wish I had seen them interact a bit more. Oh well.

Dirk Durosette (set), James Leitner (lighting), Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind (costumes) and Robert Kaplowitz (music and sound) were the impressive designers.

For tickets to “The Pride of Parnell Street,” playing through April 17 at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse, call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org

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