The term “dysfunctional family” has never been more applicable than in this expertly staged and compellingly acted production of Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce, winner of the 2007 Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, now playing at Theatre Banshee in Burbank.
When we are first introduced to the characters, Dinny (Tim Cummings), Sean (Adam Haas Hunter), and Blake (Cameron J. Oro), they all occupy different areas of a grubby London flat, silently preparing for what evolves into a farcical play that they’ve obviously performed many times before.
At first we feel like we’re in Ionesco territory as they begin to make their way through a story that doesn’t make any sense, but gradually we realize that we’re watching the ritual of a family unit, with Dinny the domineering father (and author of the play) and Sean and Adam his two sons.
The bits and pieces of actual story we get are convoluted: Dinny had been forced to leave his beloved Cork, taking his two young boys with him. Why their mother didn’t come along is never completely explained, but it becomes clear that they’ve occupied this flat for twenty-some years, performing Dinny’s twisted version of their personal history and embellishing it as the years go by. It’s grown into quite a strange show, full of funerals and double-crosses and poisonings, and Dinny demands that it be performed to the letter, with every plot twist and costume change perfectly timed.
Dinny has taught his sons that the outside world is filled with danger, and only Sean is allowed to leave the flat to visit the corner market every day for specific items: roast chicken, sliced bread, spreadable cheese and Harp’s lager. These purchases are the props that they need for the day’s performance. This day is going to be different, however: Sean had mistakenly picked up someone else’s bag and therefore has brought the wrong food. Dinny discovers his mistake and brutalizes him.
Blake intervenes and they attempt to carry on, but the play is further interrupted by the arrival of Hayley (Brie Eley), a clerk at the market who’d taken a shine to Sean (and knows where he lives). She was kind enough to bring the correct bag of food on her lunch break, only to be taken captive and dragged forcibly into their bizarre ritual.
By the second act, Walsh begins to provide clarity to the story and reveals just how deeply this gruesome family tragedy penetrates. His utilization of farce and music hall tradition is merely a pretext for exploring deeper themes like the disintegration of the family unit and indeed society itself. Irish traditions are also in for a skewering as a blubbering Dinny waxes nostalgic about his long-lost home in Cork as “Tura-Lura-Lural” plays on his portable tape recorder.
Cummings is a roaringly good Dinny, a man whose life and self-worth have been stripped away from him, and who finds his only solace in this misbegotten melange of memories. Hunter resonates as the put-upon Sean, who has discovered that London is not a death trap, but is too beaten down by his father to do anything about it. Eley doesn’t have a lot to do as Hayley, but she fits the bill.
Oro has the showiest role as Blake, playing assorted women (including his mother), a couple of men, and himself. His differing body languages and vocal inflections—not to mention wigs—help to delineate the character he’s portraying at any given time. It’s a demanding performance, lurching between the campiness of the characters in the play and the real, angry persona of Blake himself, and Oro does it well.
I was impressed by the production, including the scenic design by Arthur MacBride that efficiently captures the essence of the run-down flat on a small stage, the lighting by R. Christopher Stokes, and the costuming by Jessica Dalager. It was directed by Tim Byron Owen with an assured hand.
I love Los Angeles theater—so many small houses scattered around town, populated by talented artists who love the craft—and Theatre Banshee is one of the best venues I’ve seen. This was my first visit, but I’ll certainly be back. It’s well worth a drive to Burbank to check out this production.