Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Trad Whimsical Irish Tale Delightfully Performed
Thomas is one hundred years old and lives in a small house in rural west Ireland with his "Da". As he nears the end of his life, Da is unhappy with his son, admonishing him for not getting away from home. The crux of the widowed Das unhappiness is that Thomas has never had a child, and that his family has come to the end of its genetic line.
In response to his father's harsh words, Thomas reveals that he had a sexual relationship with a girl when he was twenty-nine years old, and that he believes that she became pregnant and gave birth to a son who would now be seventy years old. Determined to confirm that his family line survives, the one legged Da rises from the bed, straps on his wood leg, and leads his son across ten scenes on a metaphorically epic, jocularly whimsical and philosophic journey to the nearby village where the girl lived in order to find his seventy-year-old grandson. Thomas, who is lacking in acuity, unhelpfully notes, "I didn't get the family name. Her first name was Mary."
On their journey, father and son discuss tradition, family history, the deceased "legends" of their acquaintance, and the need to change and look to the future as Da seeks to find some meaning in his life. They encounter Sal, an old woman who is seeking a priest to give her a blessing. She has soured on modern ways by which "all goes to making money" Eventually, Da and Thomas seek out and find boozing priest Father Rice, whose ledgers contain the birth records which will reveal the identity of Thomas's son. There is a bittersweet, satisfying conclusion which encompasses the fabulist storytelling, off-beat humor and philosophy of the entity that is Trad.
The direction and performances are ideally in tune with author Mark Doherty's whimsy. Although, there is a strong sense of the style and tone of Samuel Becket in both the staging and the script, there is an underlying feeling that Trad is gently taking pleasure in, as well as satirizing, a wide swath of storytelling Irish playwriting and literature. Gregory Cilmi's imaginative, light and airy scenery employs playfully designed pieces which augment the lighthearted storytelling. They include a collapsible metal rack of rows of headstones for a graveyard. A backlit proscenium-like area provides the background for an open road as Da and Thomas journey about. Cilmi extends the playing area to all four corners of the stage, lending size to the journey. There is even a considerable patch of earth which provides us with a sense of being out of doors and on rural roads.
Director Michael Bias and his cast give us a production which makes manifest the delight which they all have found in interpreting playwright Mark Doherty's playful conceit, and that passes on the delight on to us. Da may be cantankerous, but he is also in love with his words and cleverness. This allows Thom Molyneaux to convey his delight in himself without having to ever break character. Roland Johnston is a delightfully obtuse, outsized Thomas. Both Molyneaux and Johnston have shaved their heads for these roles, and the payoff is that their familial and comic relationship bond is enhanced in our minds by the similarity in their appearance. Thomas Layman lends solid support playing both Sal and Father Rice in broadly entertaining fashion.
Trad, originally conceived by Mark Doherty as a play for the radio, won the BBC Radio Drama Award in 2004. That same year it was produced on stage by the Galway (Ireland) Arts Festival in a production which was highly regarded when it played at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005. It had its American premiere at Philadelphia's Inis Nua Theatre in 2008 in a production which played briefly in New York as part of an Irish Play Festival at Manhattan Theatre Source.
Trad continues performances (Evenings: Thursday, Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Sunday 3 pm) through May 6, 2012, at the Garage Theatre Group, Becton Theatre, on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1000 River Road, Teaneck, New Jersey 07670. Box Office: 201-569-7710; online: www.GarageTheatre.org.
Trad by Mark Doherty; directed by Michael Bias