According to some pundits, the new play is in serial decline. Thank god then for Ireland and its seemingly inexhaustible supply of writers with new stories. Though I think the Royal Court, the Bush, Gate and yes, the Tricycle might have something to say about a so-called lack of new writing - they’ve plenty on offer this autumn.
London audiences however need no introduction to Sebastian Barry – The Pride of Parnell Street’s author. Who will ever forget Barry’s The Steward of Christendom with the towering, much missed Donald McCann, Sinead Cusack in Our Lady of Sligo or the bizarrely hypnotic Whistling Psyche with Kathryn Hunter in drag as James Barry, a 19th century army surgeon?
The Pride of Parnell Street, however, is no historical reworking, if once again, a detailed, personal excavation into man’s dark interior. I use the word, man, advisedly, since in Barry’s Dublin two hander – here receiving its world premiere through the Tricycle’s collaboration with Dublin new writing company, Fishamble – Joe, the pride of Parnell Street, is a man to whom the word `evil’ is ascribed. It is at once both a love letter to a vanished Dublin (it is set just at the turn of the millennium, in 1999) and examination of what it is that pushes men to domestic violence. The Pride of Parnell Street doesn’t exactly answer that question but rather posits a balancing act between good and evil implying also, by female collusion, the inter-dependence of the two.
Mary Murray’s Janet, his much adored wife, emblem of endless forgiveness like the Madonna herself, sits beaming beatifically, reliving the good old days “before the Africans came to Parnell Street” (Irish playwrights have yet to fully confront this largely unspoken recent racist tendency!) when her man would get up at noon – hence his epithet, `a Midday Man’ - and burgle cars. All Joe ever wanted, we’re told, was a wife, kids and a job at the power station.
It doesn’t turn out like that and Barry’s monologuic portrait is the charting of a bewildered man’s descent from petty to major crime, murder and heroin addiction before succumbing to AIDS. Barry’s love for the criminal but hatred of the crime is obvious. That it avoids sentimentality and acquires instead a cool, limpid beauty says much for director Jim Culleton, Fishamble’s guiding light and Karl Shiels’ performance as Joe. With his shaven head, and tender brutality, he captures both Joe’s impossible adoration of Janet and his incomprehension at the violence that flows through him. There is more than a touch of the Donald McCann’s about him.
- Carole Woddis