Is Life Worth Living? An Irish Comedy
It all begins when a serious but second-string theater group is hired by the town's innkeeper, John Twohig (a very robust Philip J. Shortell). The leaders of the De La Mare Repertory Company, the husband and wife team of Hector De La Mare (Ned Record) and Constance Constantia (Joni L. Lloyd), show up at the Twohig hotel in all their pretentious pseudo-artistic glory. The town members welcome the troupe with open arms and open hearts.
There is only one problemthe troupe begins presenting a very gloomy selection of plays. Within a few days of the troupe's arrival, the townspeople begin attending productions of The Power of Darkness, Tolstoy's bleak story of a child killed in a cellar. Then comes Ibsen's A Doll's House and An Enemy of the People. After that, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Strindberg's The Father. Hector and Constance are proud of their selection. They believe the purpose of theater is to explore the harsh truths of life, and they have included plays by the early 20th century's great playwrights.
The town embraces these dark productions with high audience attendance. The locals are terribly excited about the troupe's offerings, even if the plays are loaded with murder, arson, depression and madness. But then things begin to change. At first, it is just an isolated incident when a town resident attempts suicide after seeing one of the plays. But that disturbing event begins to multiply across town. Those not suicidal still find themselves sinking into the gloom of examining personal rejections and failures from the past.
Is Life Worth Living? is a comedy that brings up questions that dog plays (and other art forms) that take on dark subjects: What is the value of art when it explores the shadowy areas of the human psyche and offers no hope for the effort? Is truth alone sufficient to justify the gloom? And is it really truth?
This may be a comedy, but it does excoriate the sharp edges of modernism. Nearly 80 years have passed since this play debuted. The dark streak of modernism has been accepted without further questioning. That acceptance takes some of the bite out of Is Life Worth Living? as we watch it in 2012, just as the teeth went out of The Crucible once the Communism witch hunts ended. We're left with a charming play that takes a soft stab at dark theater. God knows where director Brian Hansen found this forgotten gem, but it is certainly fun to watch.
This is very much an ensemble production. The drama shifts from character to character, but overall, this isn't a story about individuals. It's a drama about two forces, the na´ve small town versus the heavier elements of modern drama. Modern drama may seem smarter, and for a good portion of the play modern drama has the upper hand, but in the end, the town wins and ejects the new, the dark, and the threatening.
The script sags a bit in the middle as the play's themes begin to repeat themselves. Hansen seems to be aware of this and works to solve the problem with actor enthusiasm. This is a terrific cast and, while Shortell, Lloyd and Record are all wonderful, other standouts include Jennifer M. Lloyd-Cary as Christine Lambert, Linda Williams as Lizzie Twohig, Isaac Christie as Eddie Twohig, and Heather Lovick-Tolley as Annie Twohig.
The technical crew has done an admirable job with stage management (Donna Marie Barra), lighting (Bob Byers, Brian Hansen and Daniel Caimi), costumes (Judi Buehler, Megan Tenorio) and set design (Bob Byers and Brian Hansen). Hats off to all.
Is Life Worth Living? An Irish Comedy, written by Lennox Robinson and directed by Brian Hansen, is playing at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, through April 15. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $15. Senior and student tickets are $13. For reservations, call 505-898-9222 or visit www.adobetheater.org.