First Nighter: Hugh Leonard's 'Da,' Aaron Mark's 'Another Medea,' Damon Chua's 'Film Chinois'

In Da, now revived by the Irish Repertory Theatre during its DR2 season, Hugh Leonard deals with a couple of irrefutable psychological truths.
01/23/2015 12:00 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

In Da, now revived by the Irish Repertory Theatre during its DR2 season, Hugh Leonard deals with a couple of irrefutable psychological truths. He contends that we all internalize our parents as well as keep track of our younger selves.

He does it--not that he's the first to do something like this--by bringing Charlie Tynan's adopted parents and his 17-year-old self into the action. He starts the compulsive flashbacks as the 55-year-old Charlie (Ciaran O'Reilly) returns to his childhood home (very well conjured by James Morgan) directly after the funeral of his Da (Paul O'Brien).

There to begin closing up the house--his mother (Fiana Toibin) is three years gone--he's not only visited by Da and his younger version but also by his mother, by boyhood friend Oliver (John Keating), by former employer Drumm (Sean Gormley) and by a couple of memorable locals (Nicola Murphy, Kristin Griffith).

Not one of the interlopers is especially welcome, but the least welcome of all is Da, who settles in his old chair to nag at Charlie. Never mind that he's gone to his reward, no matter how meager it is. This is a Da who refuses to be left behind and who effortlessly walks through walls to make his ceaseless points. Sharp-tongued Mother isn't much less upbraiding.

Leonard's writing is extraordinarily pointed, and it's played with emotional verisimilitude by the cast under Charlotte Moore's greatly detailed direction. Any one of the scenes has the power to make patrons flinch. Besides the succession of scenes where Da relentlessly keeps after both younger and older Charlie, there's an argument between Da and Mother so caustic that it can tempt patrons to turn their heads away.

Rousing theater, no doubt, but there's something going on under the surface that does raise a question about Charlie's compulsively sharp-tongued Da and his underlying intentions, his motivating urges. At some point, 55-year-old Charlie observes that "love turned upside down is love for all that."

Does Leonard believe it? Is he really depicting a father who expresses his love--a Mother, too--through unfailing meanness? Or is love turned upside down not love but rather a cruel conscious or unconscious withholding of love?

The only time Da and Mother show any sign of affection is when young Charlie is flying off to his wedding and they stand outside their front door waving him off. Why are they waving? They've refused to attend a ceremony taking place 500 miles away. Having done that, how fond of their son can they be?

Before Da reaches its close, Leonard indicates that Da will be trailing (stalking?) Charlie forever. He suggests that it'll be a cozy, Blarney-like relationship. Will it?

Leonard has written a playable, in many ways appealing drama, but somewhere under his revealed psychological truths is a deeper psychological truth he seems reluctant to confront for reasons at which an onlooker can only guess.
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Good for Aaron Mark, who directed Another Medea, which Tom Hewitt is performing again, at The Wild Project this time. With this one, Mark really got me going.

I missed the play (or monologue) when it was previously on view and hadn't had time to read the program closely before Hewitt, identified as Performer, entered, took a pregnant pause during which he looked extremely apprehensive and began talking about having replaced an actor called Marcus Sharp in a play some years earlier.

Saying there'd been little contact with Strong over time, Hewitt goes on to mention he'd nevertheless become intrigued by misfortunes that he'd learned had befallen Sharp. Mentioning the adjective "horrific," he recounts a correspondence with Sharp, who was in prison, and discloses he eventually visited the inmate.

That's where Hewitt sits at an unadorned table--the chair and table comprising the only set--and recites the tale told throughout that confrontation, which, incidentally, continues longer than such tete-a-tetes usually do in most depictions of these events.

It seems that Sharp, as he tells it, was wooed and won by an English oncologist named Jason many years earlier. Initially, their affair was red-hot--the sex in particular--but after Jason's sister, Anjelica, and Sharp collaborated via sperm bank on twin girls, which they presented to the doctor as their joint gift, the men's love match soured.

Having been replaced by a younger man called Paris List, Sharp suddenly connected his Jason with the mythical Jason who abandoned Medea for a princess. Obsessed with the similarity between the two situations, Sharp--all the while impersonating the involved characters he mentions--reads everything he can about Medea, every play, starting with Euripides through Charles Ludlum and beyond,

Increasingly identifying with the scorned woman who takes vengeance on her Jason by murdering their two sons as well as his royal lover, Sharp is compelled into actions the audience sees coming but that won't be described in detail here.

It's enough for this throttled auditor/spectator to say Another Medea is the sort of theater experience that has you wanting to stop listening all the while you're aching to learn what happens next. You need to find out if it's even more horrific than what has just preceded it. It's a tale that if told around a campfire would keep everyone awake for the rest of the night.

Beneath the story is also a look at obsession and how it can be infectious, as in the case of the speaker's obsession with Sharp. Towards the end of the outpouring, Hewitt talks about having become so affected by Sharp's confidences that he can no longer work and is $20,000 in debt. (Interestingly, director Mark guided Ben Rimalower through Bad With Money, now at The Duplex. Does he specialize in compulsive accounts of men strapped for cash?)

The last thing I'll add before recommending you dash to see Another Medea is that Hewitt delivers it chillingly and that Mark's contributions aren't limited to his subtle direction.

No, wait. One absolute last note: I Googled Marcus Sharp and found no references to anyone with the background Hewitt supplies. Neither is Sharp accessible on imdb.com (International Broadway Data Base) either. So go figure.
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With Pan Asian Repertory's Film Chinois, Damon Chua gets a big kick out of transporting that brand of dark '40s movie genre to the stage.

The five-actor escapade--in which it's deliberately difficult to figure out who in this Beijing (when it was still Peking) stands for what and who's prepared to do what to whom--has its awkward moments. But as directed by Kaipo Schwab at The Beckett and lighted with a love of shadows by Marie Yokoyama, its ambitions remain entertaining.

American OSS man Randolph (Benjamin Jones, who will get even more out of the part as he goes along) plays literal and figurative footsie with Chinadoll (slinky, inscrutable Roseanne Ma), while he also taunts nightclub singer Simone (Katie Lee Hill, trembling and seductive) over whether he'll deliver her transit papers. (Hello there, Casablanca).

All the while a Belgian ambassador (Jean Brassard, suave, especially when wielding a pistol) hovers, making repeated references to someones or somethings known as "the twins." James Henry Doan enters and exits ominously as "A Mysterious Presence of Many Faces."

With cigarettes repeatedly plucked from cigarette cases, then lighted and deeply inhaled, Film Chinois captures the unmistakable undercurrents of those post-war flicks. It perceptively picks up on the disturbing underpinnings of the so-called "good war" that film noir exposed and then takes them one step further.

Whereas actual entries like Out of the Past weren't explicitly political, Film Chinois very much is. It refers specifically to upstart Mao Tse Tung and includes several appearances of his Little Red Book (which draws knowing titters from the audience). These underline the production's awareness of elements leading to later global implications of historic revolutionary events. How smart is that of playwright Chua?