"If I tell you, everything will change."
So family members tell each other in Our Few and Evil Days, a superb contemporary Irish family drama getting its U.S. premier through May 13 at Inis Nua Theatre Company. It turns out to be deadly true.
Family dramas concern lies and the past. Family, being family, incurs a network of special, tight, burdened bonds, reaching backward and forward through the years. Old crimes or betrayals, discovered later, inflate to heinous proportions, shadows spattered on the walls.
Our setting is a South Dublin suburb, in a working middle-class home, where Margaret (played with resolute, damaged courage by Nancy Boykin) and Michael (played with brutality and helpless vulnerability by Andrew Criss) prepare to meet daughter Adele's new boyfriend, Dennis. He arrives, but, awkwardly, Adele isn't there yet. She's visiting a friend who may be suicidal.
And so beginnings are comic. Everyone tries to be nice, and there are pregnant silences, conversational flubs, and scrambles to make up. Dialogue is Pinteresque, and we are kept uneasy, especially by the tense, torqued Dennis. Darkness is coming, we feel it, we don't know where or when.
When lights go down to mark intermission, many in the audience are staring at one other. Such has been the sudden rain of hammer blows, ripping ragged the human fabric we think we've been seeing. Rarely have I stood in the lobby during intermission and thought (and I wasn't alone in thinking), "Do I really want to go back in there?"
I really did. I did and didn't. I cared about the people. I wanted to know what happened. And didn't.
Our Few and Evil Days is yet another gem to be discovered by attending plays at our smaller theaters. It's something of a departure for Inis Nua. It has done its share of Irish contemporary, to be sure – but perhaps nothing this uncompromising. Mark O'Rowe (Terminus; Boy A; Broken) is a great choice by Inis Nua founder (and this production's director) Tom Reing. One of Ireland's best playwrights, O'Rowe last was here in 2009 with Made in China, and Few and Evil Days comes much lauded.
Another departure is the set of designer Meghan Jones. Lovingly detailed, it's Margaret and Michael's downstairs, complete with working sink, staircase up, and a fold-out couch downstage center, playing a disturbing actual and metaphoric role. No static living room, it's a cabinet of horrors.
Everyone is good. Amy Frear as Adele attracts great sympathy and is much sinned against, yet she, too, has the coiled will to hurt and unleashes it. Liam Mulshine is a little too good as Dennis, the hinky new boyfriend who morphs into someone else. And Nicholas Roesler is Gary, a man all men know too well. The second act has a few scenes that seem a tick long, but that may be simply to cushion the coming revelations. The final scene leaves us, as it must, with the married couple. It also leaves us guessing. All available answers are equally unacceptable.