The Walworth Farce
is a perfect example of Marx's observation that "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce." Inis Nua Theatre Company presents this very Irish, very theatrical play about families and violence and the endless acting out of the past at Off-Broad Street Theatre. Tom Reing directs and J. Alex Cordaro choreographs the fights, of which there are many.
Two grown sons and their father live in a dilapidated 15th-floor walkup apartment on Walworth Road in London. When we first meet them, Blake (Harry Smith) is ironing a dress, which he then puts on. His brother, Sean, (Jake Blouch in a dazzling and moving performance) is in the kitchen, dismayed at discovering a giant salami in his supermarket bag. Their father (Bill Van Horn) is polishing a shoe; they are all readying themselves for the performance that is their lives.
Each day they act out the events of the past: their mother's funeral, cooking a chicken, two little boys torturing a dog - it's all murder, money, wills. Their saga of leaving Cork, in Ireland, and fleeing to England is full of horror and, at least in the first act, is very funny since it involves the two sons playing all the roles: Harry Smith is amazingly adept at putting on and taking off wigs as he plays all the family's women, while Jake Blouch shifts walks and accents to portray their husbands. The insularity is broken when Hayley (Leslie Nevon Holden) appears with the bag of groceries Sean left behind.
Enda Walsh is one of the heirs apparent to the Irish theater throne currently occupied by Brian Friel (if Martin McDonagh is the wild, lunatic prince, Walsh is the weird, obsessive one).
Like Friel's Philadelphia, Here I Come! (currently being produced at the Walnut's Studio 5 by Irish Heritage Theatre), The Walworth Farce, is also an immigration story, but of a very different sort. And like Walsh's earlier play Bedbound, (Inis Nua's production in 2010 was spectacularly good), Walworth is an endless recital of past triumphs and terrors. And like Walsh's brilliant later play Penelope, this one is about people who are trapped by the stories they inhabit, characters who cannot escape the larger narrative somebody else wrote.
The problem with this play - besides the inconsistency of the accents - is the repetition; it's the defining device for both plot and theme, but it necessitates our watching the same thing, more or less, over and over. Once we get it, there's not much left to get.
Most Irish plays celebrate storytelling (consider McDonagh's Pillowman or Conor McPherson's The Weir), but here Walsh sees that Irish inclination as self-deluding performance, a way of fictionalizing self, of denying the present and the outside world.
As the father asks, "For what are we, Maureen, if we're not our stories?" The question is an indictment, not a celebration, of contemporary Ireland.
Presented by Inis Nua Theatre Company at Off-Broad Street Theatre, First Baptist Church, 17th and Sansom Streets, through May 27. Tickets $20-$25.