Published on July 19th, 2013 | by Darren Byrne0
Theatre Review: Best Man in the @ProjectArts Theatre
Performances in the Project Arts Theatre can be hit and miss. The very experimental nature of the space means that I’ve seen some amount of self-indulgent tripe mixed in with some brilliantly innovative, insightful plays. In the past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of luck.
Last week, I finally caught Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie, a two-act two-monologue play of an urban Dublin odyssey. The Howie starts the story and the Rookie finishes it out. Both parts are played by Love/Hate’s Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and it truly was an acting masterclass. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.
This week, the Project was transported to boomtime Ireland for Carmel Winters’ Best Man. Actually, it’s something of a cliched tale, where the suburbanite couple (one breadwinner, one stay-at-home spouse) bring in a hot, foreign nanny to look after their emotionally neglected children, leading to sexual tension and the re-evaluation of all they hold dear. Winters breaks the cliche down with a bit of gender reversal and the addition of a darker sub-plot for the generic Bolivian nanny.
High-flying real estate agent Kay Keane isn’t just earning a living for her family, she’s making a killing. Meanwhile, her husband and would-be novelist, Alan, is staked out at home, minding their children and earning ‘pin money’ by writing best man speeches. Juggling the modern-day demands of job and family is not easy, but this sparring pair seem to have arrived at a win-win situation. That is until Marta moves in. Hired to take care of their children so that Alan can finally write his novel, this sexy, straight-talking Bolivian nanny brings buried tensions to the fore. As Kay stingingly observes, soon the entire house is ‘smoking with lust for Nanny’.
Kay, the whiskey swilling breadwinner, is played by Deirbhle Crotty. I’m sure she’ll forgive me for saying this, but she wasn’t acting – she became Kay Keane, the unapologetic, sexually aggressive, emotionally unavailable, power-hungry bitch. Every moment she was on stage was delicious to watch and every moment without her was spent eagerly awaiting her return.
That’s not to knock Peter Gowen (Kay’s husband, Alan), Kate Stanley Brennan (the Bolivian nanny, Marta) or Bryan Murray (Marta’s dying, decrepit, estranged father) – they just aren’t given the same meat to chew as Crotty. Bryan Murray is, in fact, superb as the pitiful ex-statesman who left a string of bad relationships in his wake. I would love to have seen more of his tale and I believe it was an egregious misstep by Winters to leave this somewhat unresolved.
Winters, through the play, poses many questions. Is this the future of modern relationships? Are children nothing more than property to be fought over? Is it right to lie and poison a child against a parent in order to protect them? Should the elderly be pitied and cared for, even if they’ve lead less-than-good lives?…
Unfortunately, she spends little time answering them. Clever lines (usually from the mouth of Deirbhle Crotty), sleek set changes, a cheeky reveal towards the end and Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty’s music all work to disguise the lack of any real conclusion. But these disguises and distractions are a treat and manage to elevate a standard play to something quite unmissable.
The play shines brightest during the highly charged fight scenes, particularly between Crotty and Gowen’s Kay and Alan. They’re loud, aggressive and sometimes scary to watch unfold. They are so real that they touch a nerve.
Though not the most original tale, there is enough here to keep you highly entertained for a couple of hours and if you want to see some smart direction (from Michael Barker-Caven), stunning performances (especially from Crotty and Murray) and some of the most sexually charged scenes I’ve seen on the Irish stage, don’t miss Best Man.