By: Paulanne Simmons
Sitting in his old-fashioned bathtub in his dilapidated farmhouse in County Cavan, Hugh Pugh (Peter Maloney) is taking a bath for the first time in many years. The occasion for this total submersio
n is the upcoming visit of his brother, an alcoholic whose car horn plays "When the Saints Go Marching In." In the middle of Pugh’s lathering up, in walks a total stranger, the eager and amiable Rob McNulty (Rufus Collins). And thus begins John McManus’s new play The Quare Land, staged by The Irish Repertory Theatre.
Director Ciarán O’Reilly has all the elements we admire in an Irish comedy. Pugh is a great larger-than-life buffoon. His language is obscene and colorful. He’s a cynic, a misanthrope and a misogynist who describes a woman he once knew as someone "more likely to turn stomachs than heads."
The play is also filled with ironic twists. McNulty, who owns a nearby hotel, wants to purchase one of Pugh’s fields so he can enlarge the hotel’s golf course. Pugh didn’t even know he owned the field; he acquired it long ago through a strange twist of fate, and didn’t know about his good fortune because he never reads his mail. However, once Pugh finds out he’s got McNulty by the short hairs, he’s determined not to let go until he gets everything he wants.
It’s possible McManus, a promising new playwright, intended the play as a comment on Irish cupidity and obsession with land. McNulty and Pugh are equally avaricious and manipulative. But this deeper meaning is often lost in the humor.
Most of this rather short play (80 minutes) is filled with the ensuing duel between the two men. The humor is propelled by McManus’s fine use of language and Collins and Maloney’s excellent acting
Collins and Maloney operate in the typical vaudevillian style of comic and straight man. Maloney’s energy spills out of the bathtub as he gleefully washes his arms or belts out a melody. This actor certainly knows how to deliver a punchline. Collins is the quintessential foil, unsuccessfully trying to bring logic to a situation that’s becoming more and more chaotic, at the same time setting up Maloney for all those funny lines.
But eventually Pugh’s increasing demands (he has McNulty filing his nails and grooming his beard) become a bit too much not only for McNulty, but for the audience as well. We know something’s going to happen, and we hope that something will be big.
When the end does arrive, it’s not a moment too soon. And it is totally satisfying.
The Quare Land
103 East 15 Street in Union Square.
Tues at 7pm | Wed at 3pm & 8pm | Thu at 7pm | Fri at 8pm | Sat at 3pm & 8pm| Sun at 3pm
Tickets: $70, Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Opening Night: Thursday, October 1, 2015
Through Nov. 15
A part of the 2015 1st Irish Festival. Photo: Carol Rosegg