Why do Buddhists place particular emphasis on the state they call nonattachment? As they see it, we actually don’t own our possessions, our loved ones, our breath or even our bodies. Instead, we rent. Life? All of it should be considered a loan, whose terms are instantly repayable, in full, upon demand. We may choose to be mindful caretakers or negligent tenants of the properties and people entrusted to us. Either way, in the shopworn advertising phrase, everything must go.
I’m not certain how surprising it is that A. R. Gurney winds up the better Buddhist when his comedy The Dining Room is compared to Martin McDonagh’s darker work, A Skull in Connemara. When Gurney superimposes time upon time, he overlays a series of scenes upon each other that randomly skip back and forth from the 1920s to the present day. The one thing they have in common is the room they all take place in, and the lovely cherrywood table and chairs their activities occur around, above and, in one case, beneath.
No, it’s not entirely clear that the nonattachment Gurney achieves here–primarily between characters and audience–is always a virtue. The playwright’s modus operandi permits us five-minute glimpses into the lives of different generations, occasionally letting us catch back up with selected characters a few decades later on.
The task of conveying depth of situation along with breadth clearly challenges Gurney and some of the performers in this Cary Players community theater production. Still we savored much of the work we saw from comic Lindsay Kilgore, the deliciously deadpan Chris Brown and Wilson Pietzsch.
But if we’re toasting temporality by Gurney’s “enjoy life while it lasts” finale, McDonagh takes us to a radically different conclusion.
Though it may be hard to believe, conditions in Leenane have apparently gotten even humbler since we last looked in on it in McDonagh’s The Lonesome West (which Wordshed brought to stage last year). Nevermind the living being thrown out for lack of rent. The dead are being told to shuffle on as well, their bones evicted from the graveyard after seven years since space is limited, and demand is steady.
It’s a living–pardon the phrase–for pensioner Mick (John Murphy), a scandal for tough, snuff-dipping old Mary (Marcia Edmundson), and an unsatisfactory amusement, like everything else, for Mairtin (Jeff Alguire), an underachiever trying to bring b-boy moves to this Irish backwater.
When Mick is forced to exhume the bones of his wife, ostensibly killed in a drunk-driving accident, revelations encountered in the aftermath leave him and us wondering. When everything of a life is removed down to the bones themselves, what remains of a love, of commitment? What’s left to hold on to?
Audiences will see for themselves in the ending of this earthy, amusing and dark little comedy.
***1/2 Das Barbecü, Triad Stage–We may never know what possessed its creators to transplant Wagner’s Ring cycle onto a cadre of good ol’ boys and girls way out West. But this twisted musical comedy that’s long on Texan bombast scores best when its characters respond to outlandish situations with–of all things–relatively pure, human-sized emotions. Though songs that belabor abstruse plot points make this two-hour reduction still run a tad long, Barbecü wins in other numbers when its characters sing a few simple words about love and loss. (Besides, what else is country music about, anyway?) Georgia Farmer’s “County Fair” stops the show when her Brünnhilde pines for the uncomplicated life, before Lisa Dames delivers a “Wanderin’ Man” Patsy Cline might have envied.
E mail Byron Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.