"After Luke” and “When I Was God” are two of three one-act plays that comprise the Second City Trilogy by Conal Creedon (not included is “The Cure”). Originally commissioned as part of the Cultural Capital of Europe Celebrations 2005, they have been smartly paired by the Irish Repertory Theater. They take place in and around Cork City and not only reflect contemporary Ireland but also provide some fresh and amusing insights into Creedon’s overriding theme of father and son relationships. What is most notable about them is how Creedon’s additional talent and credits as a novelist, journalist, and documentary maker are as much in evidence as his skill with dramatic literature.
While both plays are inhabited by compassionately evinced sad and funny characters, they also seem to be emanating from the pages of a short story and less conspicuously from the needs and requirements of a play. While Creedon’s characters are a rich source of enlivening everyday Irish vernacular, they are consigned to deliver substantial doses of exposition (spoken directly to the audience), an occasionally clever device that nevertheless often keeps potential confrontations at bay. Despite some very fine performances by the three actors, two of whom appear in both plays, there is some exasperating staging by director Tim Ruddy (more about this later) that only helps to outline and intensify the limitations of both plays.
“After Luke” is the better and more substantial of the plays. In it, Son (Gary Gregg), the elder half-brother of Maneen (Michael Mellamphy) is keenly aware that their Dadda (Colin Lane) has openly favored the spoiled rotten Maneen since childhood. Despite the dispiriting abuse he has taken from Maneen and Dadda all his life, Son has steadfastly remained at home into adulthood working as an automotive mechanic on the family property.
Unable to succeed as an adult in business in London, Maneen returns home after 10 years like the biblical Prodigal Son and re-ignites the old tensions and rivalries. A wheeler-dealer by nature Maneen is determined to talk Dadda into selling the land at a great profit. Much of the humor and poignancy of the plot revolves around seeing how Dadda is able to consistently overlook Maneen’s devious plans even as he continues to berate and humiliate the more conciliatory Son.
Mellamphy captures Maneen’s full-of-the-devil spirit, even as our empathy is directed toward Son, beautifully acted with wide-eyed gullibility by Gregg. A couple of scenes stand out for their comical ingenuity: Son is driving Dadda to his Tuesday night bingo and gets the old man’s goat by refusing to use the clutch. The funniest moment occurs as the gloating Maneen gives Son a detailed description of his sexual dalliance with Martina, the woman Son had hoped to woo. Not that we are meant to be fooled by his subtle impersonation, but Mellamphy also briefly assumes the role of Martina’s mother, Mrs. Foley.
Even considering the play’s often blistering narrative thrust, it is hard to fathom or condone director Ruddy’s decision to keep the actors positioned for long periods of time in a framed triangle, each facing front, occasionally even standing behind a pillar, completely blocking the view of the part of the audience that sits on the side of the stage.
In “When I Was God” a commentator (Gregg) stands on a plinth and shouts out the plays on the Cup Final day. In front of him a league of Ireland soccer referee, Dinny Keegan (Mellamphy), looks back on his life as a young boy torn between his incompatible, ever battling parents. Despite sustaining injuries on the field, his dominating father (also played by Gregg) is committed to seeing his son succeed at the Gaelic sport of hurling while his mother (also played by Mellamphy) would rather have him committed to British soccer. Somewhere in between is table tennis. At the half-time Dinny does a lot of soul-searching amid troubling echoes of the past.
Although Dinny appears to be a pawn for a father who will not be satisfied unless his son is martyred for the sport, we get a glimpse into the mind of this young man who may finally be capable of stamping his own authority on the game as well as claiming his own long sought-after goal. What a terrific departure for Gregg to play the despotic, heartless father (right after seeing him play the put-upon Son in “After Luke”). It was also gratifying to see Mellamphy coming up a winner this time after being a loser in “After Luke.” Best of all, this is the work of another, if unfamiliar, playwright who has undoubtedly been touched by the Gaelic muse. **
“After Luke” and “When I Was God,” through Sunday, September 20, Irish Repertory Theater, 132 West 22nd Street. $55 and $65. 212-727-2737.