There’s a lot of fringe theater of one sort or another afoot in the city this time of year. That means short runs, in challenging spaces, with small casts, and few amenities. Right now, there’s a good deal of Irish theater about, in that tier.
Twice in two weeks, I’ve seen one-man shows, about each of which, I could honestly say, “I’ve never seen anything quite like that.” The first was Man in the Moon, which left me breathless. The second is Three Irish Widows vs. the Rest of the World, playing at Ryan’s Daughter Pub, on East 85th St., which left me exhausted.
Fergal Titley (just the one actor) offers us thirty-four characters in sixty minutes in playwright Ed Malone’s semi-biographical tale about “… three, real, Irish, working-class women …” who marry young in Ireland and live harsh, constrained lives through the 1980s and 1990s. The men they marry are often brutal and always unsatisfying. When the men die, the widows, free for the first time, look to please themselves.
Pound-for-pound and minute-for-minute, Titley has to be the hardest working actor in New York. He’s likable and in-your-face available, and he moves with great enthusiasm and inventiveness on a bare stage, with only his talent and imagination to animate nearly three dozen characters. Besides the women and the “fellas” they married, bartenders and hair dressers, travel agents and predators come to life, each with a defining line and dialect, and often serving up distinctly Irish idiom. Titley lets us see him sweat, and, when he runs back for a curtain call, you cannot believe he can still run.
Malone’s script must look like a rats’ nest. It opens with a blast of free association that has moments of poetry. There’s an engaging sense of “what’s he going to do next” that keeps you tuned in. At the start, the story seems to promise social commentary, and that makes you hope for substance. There’s a bit at the outset –about the trees in Ireland being upright, “unlike the girls”– which never really goes anywhere. Actually, it’s not that it doesn’t goanywhere, but rather it goes everywhere, so that, in the end, you’ve had a marvelous, raucous ride, but you’ve been driven up too many cul-de-sacs and asked to swallow too much happenstance and coincidence to take what you are seeing seriously.
It may be that Malone is not serious, that the raucous ride was the goal. Still, you shouldn’t leave wondering.
Unlike so many of the venues staging Off-Fringe productions (and yes, that is a manufactured term but “Off-Off B’way” must have been once), Ryan’s Daughter brings it’s own magic to this and other efforts showcased in this pub. A certain Irish authenticity rubs off on anything presented in the upstairs barroom space that serves as stage. The lads behind the bar are genial and welcoming and the place feels like it knows you.
Should you go? I would. I did and I had fun.
Three Irish Widows versus the Rest of the World – Written and directed by Ed Malone.
WITH: Fergal Titley (entire cast)
At The Theatre Space at Ryan’s Daughter, 350 East 85th Street through November 13th. Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission.