BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Remember your thrill of discovery as a theatergoer when Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh arrived a decade and more ago with their first couple of plays? Those distinctive Irish voices? Those nasty stories of bad boys and girls mixing it up amid the freakier aspects of modern Irish life?
Even as both productive playwrights continue to develop as artists, another wave of Irish writers is reaching our shores. Fresh works by over a dozen mostly contemporary, living Irish playwrights are being showcased in the third annual edition of the 1st Irish 2010 Festival now running among various off-Broadway theaters through early October. Check out the complete roster of shows at www.1stirish.org.
The other week I enjoyed the Mint Theater's unearthing of the long-lost "Wife to James Whelan," an absorbing 1942 drama about three women buzzing around a self-made man by Teresa Deevy (the only deceased author in the 1st Irish bunch).The show I caught last weekend at The Flea Theater in TriBeCa, "The Prophet of Monto," is a first play by Dublin-based John Paul Murphy who's mainly been a TV and film techie-writer. This production by the Solas Nua cultural organization from Washington D.C. represents the drama's world premiere.
Set in a slummy district of Dublin, "The Prophet of Monto" strongly recalls McPherson's earliest works like "The Good Thief" and "This Lime Tree Bower." Told through monologues and sharp exchanges by two working-class characters hooked into a love triangle (actually more of a rhomboid since a fourth party is involved), the environment is dark, the story is tragic and the talk is thick with local color:
"I see people, yeah, bits of their intimate lives spilling out and trailing behind them like clumps of bog roll sticking to their shoes," says Zoe, a drugstore clerk professing to be a minor seer. But she sees no troubles clinging to "spotless" Liam, her overly trusting fiancé.
Liam's twin brother Larry is the story's other narrator and he hates Zoe from the get-go. "Ah, she's a great little liar, isn't she?" sneers Larry, suspecting Zoe of being a gold digger unfaithful to his bro with a Vespa-riding greaser in the neighborhood. Is Larry being protective or oddly jealous?
Some 90 minutes later, motives have been revealed and bloody vengeance taken yet the outcome is not what you might expect. Dealing in shameful longings, Murphy writes with vigor, a grim sense of humor and malodorous urban lingo. If "Prophet" rants away in McPherson's mid-1990s style — enjoyably so — Murphy's writing shows sufficient strength and smarts to await with interest his next play.
Director Des Kennedy stages a stark, intimate production in the Flea's humid 40-seat basement space with two actors prowling amid gritty nothingness. Speaking in a deceptively sweet, tremulous voice, Laoisa Sexton's cool, blond Zoe suggests a dish of melting ice cream. Scruffy Michael Mellamphy gives Larry a naturally slow-burning attitude that heats up the play's narrative format.
"The Prophet of Monto" continues through Sept. 25 at The Flea Theater, 41 White St., New York. Call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.theflea.org.