The use of monologue in the theatre is generally a device, within the larger aspect of a play, whereby we are allowed to hear the inner thoughts of a character to which we would not normally be privy. The use of monologue as the whole play is not something new and strange, and indeed some of Ireland’s best-known and most revered plays are monologue-based. However, there are ways and ways of communicating a story, and if it’s going to be told on a stage, then it does need to have a certain degree of drama apart from the emotions inspired by the pathos of the tale. It really does in fact need to be dramatic, and while the cast and crew of Fiona Looney’s one-act do their best to create the usual feeling of building towards denouement that we expect from the theatre, once we figure out where we are, we pretty much know where we’re going to end up.
Maree Kearns’ set not only fills the bill of creating an entire world in the café’s familiar back corner, it is actually the entire world for Marie, Brian’s mother. Brian went missing at the age of fourteen, and fourteen years later, Marie is by turns cocooned and trapped in her front room, and confined in a personal narrative that, for fourteen years, has chased itself round and round her heart and head and soul. Lost somewhere between a football match and the movies, Brian has disappeared, and one gets the impression that if Marie doesn’t recite her piece, over and over, then she too will vanish.
Deirdre Donnelly does a beautiful job of embodying Marie, initially presenting herself as the type of woman you’d be happy enough to pass the time of day with over a cup of tea: good-humoured, sharp, and comfortably familiar. There’s nothing special about Marie, really, as she weaves her way into the past from the present, telling us a story about the things she’s been winkling out of the carpet these past who knows how many years, first picking up the beads that her daughters had abandoned, and the nuts and bolts her son liberated from his father’s toolbox — and now here she is all over again, tidying up after her granddaughters. Salt-of-the-earth, calls-it-as-she-sees-it Marie is no one out of the ordinary, and playwright Fiona Looney spends the requisite amount of time making sure that we understand that.
It gradually becomes apparent that something has gone terribly wrong in the family, and in the main, Looney does a graceful job of peeling back the layers. There is quite a lot of interest here, as we eventually begin to plumb the depths of Marie’s despair, and several ideas which are intriguing: the notion that the community suffer from survivor’s guilt, in that it wasn’t any of their sons who have disappeared, and as a result the neighbours can’t actually cope with having Marie in their midst; and the familiar, and yet still compelling need for those left behind to hang on to hope, no matter how many years have passed. Marie never leaves the house, a choice that might be perceived as cowardly, but Looney makes sure we realise that the fact that Marie is still alive is a great act of courage.
The theme is affecting, and the cast of virtual characters is rich, peopled by Marie’s family, and Brian’s friends, by the police and by the neighbours, but there’s little theatricality about the writing, even though director Michael James Ford and lighting designer Colm Maher tease out a change of tone towards the end of the piece. Donnelly plays the rhythms of the text deftly, and while it can be argued as symbolic that she literally doesn’t have much to do, the actress is figuratively in the same boat. The audience is not challenged to fill in any blanks, and while the construction of the piece shows a certain degree of elegance, there are no surprises to be had in the presentation of the narrative. In the end, it is a moving tale told in a, well, nuts and bolts kind of way.
Susan Conley is a cultural critic and author.