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      A Life
    An unfulfilled "Life"

    Hugh Leonard's "A Life" is an important play in the Irish canon, not brought to its full potential in the Irish Rep's current production.


    I was really looking forward to seeing Hugh Leonard's "A Life" at the Irish Repertory Theater. I had watched its cast of stellar actors excitedly crowding around their director Charlotte Moore backstage at Symphony Space during the Bloomsday Festival, and I imagined something exciting might be afoot. What's more, the female lead is Pauline Flanagan who originated the role of Blaize Scully in Marina Carr's Irish tragedy "Portia Coughlan" — one of the last great plays of the 20th century. Also I was looking forward to seeing Fritz Weaver on stage, having been a fan of his work since he appeared opposite Joseph Buloff in that legendary production of Arthur Miller's "The Price" in 1980.

    A LIFE
    Written by: Hugh Leonard.
    Directed by: Charlotte Moore.
    Cast: Fritz Weaver, Pauline Flanagan, Jarlath Conroy, David Costelloe, Paddy Croft, John Keating, Heather O'Neill, Derdriu Ring.
    Originally produced on Broadway in 1979, the Tony-nominated "A Life" joins Hugh Leonard's "Da" as an important play in the Irish canon of modern drama. The life in question is Drumm's, a cranky civil servant, who in his spare time gives walking tours of Dalkey, the coastal Dublin suburb where he lives. He calls it "a town, in the Catholic sense — the Protestants call it a village" with "600 persons per public house." He has just been told that he has six months to live. When his doctor suggests a hospital stay, Drumm refuses — "only a fool dedicates himself to medical science before death."

    Chronicling the relationship between Drumm, his wife and their on-again, off-again best friends, Leonard acutely depicts the small-town aesthetic where grudges are held and remembered for years. Intermittent flashback sequences lay down the psychology for the quartet's lifelong complicated relationship that extends far beyond their shared cups of tea. Reflecting upon his life and his friends and his many mistakes, Drumm prefers to lay blame at any door rather than his own.

    Weaver's portrayal of the unloveable Drumm, while studied, makes you want to kill the character before his six months are up. The cast also includes Paddy Croft and Jarlath Conroy, who, like Weaver and Flanagan, are both acclaimed veteran performers. Their affection for Drumm — in his younger or older incarnations — is baffling, with no clues readily apparent in either script or onstage characterizations. The younger players, David Costelloe, Heather O'Neill, John Keating and Derdriu Ring, mimic their older selves well although they play their roles with an exaggerated naivete forsaking the sexual tensions and passions of youth. Overall, the performances play to the audience and lack the sense of intimacy Leonard so exactingly captures in his script.

    The staging intermingles the two time periods without a lighting change or other theatrical divide, undercutting the potential magic of revealing memory on stage. Linda Fisher's costumes for the older characters, however, perfectly capture Irish grannies of a certain era. Although reveling in the cantankerous intellectual sarcasm that anyone with an Irish uncle will appreciate, this play about missed opportunities, while enjoyable, is in itself a bit of a missed opportunity in its present incarnation at the Irish Rep.

    JULY 26, 2001

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