Two world premiere plays grace the stage at Clark Street Playhouse in revolving repertory productions by Keegan Theatre. Both plays are lengthy and rather wordy plays, both highly atmospheric. But the worlds they create are very different.
Action in “An Island of No Land at All” takes place all over Europe, but the play creates a distinctly Irish atmosphere.
Carrying the full title “An Island of No Land At All - The Story of O'Malley of Shanganagh,” Peter Coy’s play is based on the works of Irish-American poet and playwright Donn Byrne.
Eric Lucas plays deBourke O'Malley, a swaggering, confident young Irishman returning to his home county after years at sea. He meets and falls in love with Joan Bruce-Bennett, a novice at the Anglican convent established in one of his childhood homes, and manages to convince her to abandon her vocation and marry him.
Ghillian Porter plays Joan with a frailty that’s a taste of things to come, as the bride slowly disintegrates under twin pressures of guilt for abandoning her religious duties and ostracism she and O’Malley experience at the hands of their neighbors.
Watching both Lucas and Porter disintegrate before your eyes in a nearly three-hour play is fascinating. A third member of the cast, Brian Hemmingsen, provides a sense of continuity to the piece in the role of Mr. Moore, who serves as both narrator and participant in the plot — though his place in small community outside of Dublin remains fairly enigmatic through most of the play
The show is directed by Keegan artistic director Mark A. Rhea in an unhurried manner. The pace gives the audience plenty of opportunity to ponder plot points that Coy’s script to serve up a bit at a time, while a sense of place and time to develop slowly. It is a full and fully satisfying evening of theater to be savored.
Lucas and Rhea switch places, with Rhea on stage and Lucas directing his own play, “Tattoo Sky,” the second premiere in the set. It is equally atmospheric, but very different and not as satisfying.
Instead of an Irish atmosphere, this violent three-actor okay is set in a dilapidated Nevada ranch house. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Sam Shepard’s more introspective plays. Meanwhile, “Tattoo Sky’s” structure plays with time in ways that are never completely resolved, leaving some questions unanswered.
“Tattoo Sky” turns very violent as Taylor the hit man tortures Ray in an effort to discover the location of a great deal of money. It appears that Ray and Meg have stolen the cash from his employers. However, it is never quite clear who has how much of the booty by the time the play begins.
Rhea gives his trademark intensely smoldering performance as Ray opposite his wife Susan Marie Rhea, as Meg, who exudes a mixture of confidence and sexuality that seems exactly right for a modern cowgirl. Kevin Taylor, as the smooth talking operator who invades their world, plays his part with a swagger very much like that of a mob hit man.
Both plays feature notable word-play in the dialogue. It seems more appropriate in Coy's piece because of the legendary fascination for language of the Irish, while it is not clear just why Lucas has Rhea’s cowboy commit a significant amount of the dictionary to memory.