Des Keogh appeared at the Irish Repertory Theatre last year, in John B. Keane's The Matchmaker, where he served as one half of a cast interpreting and presenting the hilarious courtship and matrimonial problems of rural Ireland. Keane has since died, but Keogh is now returning to the Irish Rep to keep his spirit alive with The Love Hungry Farmer.
Keogh is on his own now, having adapted the one-man show from Keane's work, but it doesn't take long for him to prove - theatrically, at least - he doesn't need anyone else. The character he's playing, however, would not agree: John Bosco McLane is desperate for female companionship; now in his late 50s, wants to find someone to share his life with before it's too late. Living in a tiny cottage near the isolated community of Bannabeen, though, has provided few opportunities.
Of course, a few chances have presented themselves, but they have all had unhappy, yet strangely comic endings. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, and despite the main character's neverending (and almost debilitating) difficulties with romance, The Love Hungry Farmer is really an uproarious comedy; you won't find a more incisive or hilarious demarcation of love and marriage anywhere else.
Its success is due primarily to the razor-sharp definition of its lead character. To modern audiences, John Basco's character is nearly intractable, yet he is portrayed and written as almost anachronistic for the 1950s, in which the play is set. John shares his longings and desires with nearly everyone else on the planet, but discovers his feelings and confronts his successes and failures with an almost childlike innocence. Yet John adheres strictly to a standard of still-sensible logic: He applies to a local matchmaker (the one he portrayed in The Matchmaker), considers the use of modern technology to satiate his desires until he sees the results, and even ponders entering the priesthood as a remedy for his troubles.
This gives the play a truly tragic undercurrent that helps move The Love Hungry Farmer from the merely funny to the sublime. Though Keogh plays John with a winning purity of heart, intention, and outlook that make witnessing even his most grievous and embarrassing failures - of which there are more than a few - highly comic, he still finds and brings to the surface the sadness and loneliness that inform John's every decision. No success comes without the associated failure.
Charlotte Moore, the play's director, has found in the Irish Rep's tiny Studio Theatre an ideal setting for the play. John's cramped, isolated cottage possesses the sparse detail and unforgiving plainness of a man who has things on his mind beyond decorating and creature comforts; his angst has manifested itself in the very walls. Put simply, his home displays the intense need for a woman's touch, something that helps establish John's longing for escape from the oppression of single life before Keogh utters a single word of dialogue.
When that dialogue comes, be it from John or the other handful of characters Keogh plays to understated comic perfection, it speaks of both an era and simplicity long past and yearnings that, for mankind, are as timeless (and timely) as ever. The Love Hungry Farmer, like life itself, is a volatile mixture of tragedy and comedy, and something that must be experienced for the pleasures it has to offer.
Irish Repertory Studio Theatre