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'The Walworth Farce' Is Not A Laughing Matter

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Adam Haas Hunter, Tim Cummings, Brie Eley and Cameron J. Oro in "The Walworth Farce." Photo - Theatre Banshee
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Theatre Banshee deserves a great deal of credit for taking a risk on a black comedy as dark and difficult as Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce. It's a loud, confrontational, complicated play, more symbolic than realistic. It requires the audience to sit up and pay attention, to keep up with its tangle of tales and personas and tragedy. Those who do will be rewarded with a trio of excellent performances, actors at the top of their abilities, and the result is very impressive work. Unfortunately, the play itself is only partly great, and the director underserves the comedy to the extent that the show is more intensely grim than I believe it was meant to be.

A London apartment housing a father and two adult sons is home to a never-ending psychodrama that's been running to empty seats for years. Dinny (Tim Cummings), the impresario and creator of the story, directs with a clouting fist, very much a hands-on helmer who wants every detail perfect. Blake (Cameron J. Oro, who alternates with Kevin Stidham) plays all the women’s roles with practiced ease and barely repressed violence. Sean (Adam Haas Hunter), the older son, is tired of reenacting Dinny's story of why he had to leave Ireland. He wants to escape the apartment and "leave showbiz," and when supermarket employee Hayley (Brie Eley) stops by unexpectedly, he sees his chance.

Cummings, an actor I've previously admired, has so completely inhabited his role that I didn't realize it was him until I'd looked at the program later on. His performance as Dinny is a great roaring thing, a dynamo of blazing anger, but Cummings also shows the defeated humanity within the monster, quiet moments of exhaustion where he regroups and refastens Dinny’s bad toupee. Hunter is sympathetic as the sanest member of the family, gradually moving from a confused mixture of love and fear to anger and strength. His final version of the “story,” mumbling and tentative, is effectively sad and spooky. Oro is quietly chilling as Blake, who is more than a little damaged. A scene where he listens to Hayley and mimics her, unseen, so as to improve his “female” authenticity in his acting, is simultaneously funny and disturbing--a balance Oro strikes for the entire play. Eley is quite good as Hayley, a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic atmosphere, but the role as written quickly reduces her part to that of simple victim, which is disappointing.

The promotional material, as well as past reviews of this play, refer to it as a black comedy, but the laughs in this production are surprisingly few. Tim Byron Owen seems to have seen this play only as a serious drama, and has directed his cast to play it that way. Enda Walsh’s writing, however, appears to be deliberately over-the-top in places (“Farce,” after all, is in the title), as if encouraging the audience to laugh, but Owen steers clear of most of that, which weakens this production. My interpretation of what Walsh’s odd story is meant to symbolize is the trap of immigrants endlessly romanticizing their days in their countries of origin to the point where their current lives are composed of nothing but possibly false memories. This is interesting as a theme, but ultimately the events of the play seem so unrealistic that the drama is less believable--even for a mostly symbolic show--and the repetitive nature of the dialogue is finally wearying.

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“The Walworth Farce” runs through September 4. Tickets are $15-20 and are available online or at (818) 846-5323.