'The Muesli Belt' Tackles Gentrification On The Emerald Isle
Other than merely being a consistently high-quality and award-winning theatre company, Theatre Banshee also does the service of introducing new or previously unseen Irish plays and playwrights to Los Angeles audiences. One of these writers is Jimmy Murphy, whose Kings of the Kilburn High Road was given a strong production at the Banshee a few years ago. The company's latest show, the U.S. premiere of Murphy's The Muesli Belt, is a moving and funny character study buoyed by terrific performances.
The story is set in 1999, when Ireland was going through an economic boom, and gentrification was the order of the day in Dublin. Mick (John McKenna, who alternates with Matt Foyer) runs a down-at-heel pub known as The Black Pool, employing practical young Sinéad (Lisa Dobbyn), giving local salon owner Nora (Kathleen M. Darcy) a regular place to drink and providing the just retired Tommy (Ian Patrick Williams) a home in the next door flat. However, developer Mossy (Andrew Graves, who alternates with Andrew Leman) is trying to get Mick and Nora to sell their businesses, which would change the lives of the entire group, and not necessarily for the better.
McKenna is credible and sympathetic as Mick, playing a man who has to balance his own needs with that of the community, and he captures the character's internal conflict well, shifting from righteous anger to overwhelming guilt and back again. Darcy is excellent as Nora, whose thorny exterior masks desperation and self-doubt. Her performance is touching, and she also brings a great comic energy to the role. Dobbyn is equally good in a quieter part, as Sinéad attempts to attach herself to a possible winner--her acting is subtle and funny and fine. Graves is charismatic and humorous as blunt object of capitalism Mossy, and Williams is appropriately sweet and sad as the unlucky Tommy.
Director Sean Branney gets commendable work from his cast, generating enough emotion in a short period of time that the audience cares about them and their dilemma quickly. Murphy's characters seem real, and his dialogue often gets right to his point ("Some things don't have a price: friendship, loyalty." "That's because they're worthless.") about how greed changes lives irrevocably. The very ending, however, does feel a bit anticlimactic. That aside, this is a solid show that ably demonstrates the cost of replacing individuals with corporations.
"The Muesli Belt" plays at Theatre Banshee through Dec. 2. Tickets are available online.