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Theater Review (NYC): Conal Creedon’s When I Was God and After Luke

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Three cold and rainy days. Four Irish plays into the 1st Irish theatre festival. My soul was starting to weigh as heavy as those of the good citizens of Lennox Robinson's Inish. I had seen the dissolution of a marriage, the dissolution of a conscience, the dissolution of a shared history, the dissolution of a life.

And did I mention all the fashionistas crowding the streets for Fashion Week? Now that was really depressing! Do these white jeans make me look fat?

Then the sun came out. There was a comedy on the docket! From Cork. Cork comedies are generally very funny. Conal Creedon's specifically so. I wonder why that is. Perhaps a contrasting philosophy. The Other. Murphy's Stout rather than Guinness.

Some of the best lines in Mr. Creedon's When I Was God were the wordless ones. A Cork father is so disgruntled (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun) at his son's failures at hurling that he spends years simply grunting. It is a funny, yet poignant device that underscores a canyon in communication between father and son – a theme that unites the evening's two one-acts.

Michael Mellemphy, left, and Gary Gregg were part of When I Was God last year, an entry in the first 1st Irish festival. They exceed even last year's exceptional work. Under the direction of Tim Ruddy, they bring broad comic timing and broader nostalgia for a town that was and a relationship that wasn't. This is also Mr. Ruddy's return engagement.

This year, at the Irish Repertory Theatre, When I Was God is paired with After Luke. In a backwards time trend, After Luke deals with father-son issues from the perspective of the adult son. This contrasts with When I Was God which is told primarily from the p.o.v. of the adolescent. As the evening progresses, we regress back to childhood.

After Luke is a clever adaptation of the St. Luke story of the Prodigal Son. I love that the playwright tackled this story. Who hasn't sat through the yearly gospel and sermon on this particular story, and who hasn't thought that the older son is mistreated? Enough with the fatted calf! That son of yours just spent all your money!

In After Luke, Colin Lane is the embattled father with two grown sons, trying not to be trampled in the conflict.
His younger son (Michael Mellemphy) has left the family farm/junkyard to make his fortune in London. In true St. Luke fashion, the younger son burns through his money and returns home to try to persuade his father that they should take advantage of the real estate boom in Cork and sell off the family homestead.

A pause for irony here. On the way to the show, I listened to Declan O'Byrne's WFUV "News From Ireland" broadcast. Things are not as rosy in Cork's real estate market as it might seem in Mr. Creedon's play. But you knew that, didn't you.

On with the show. With the return of the prodigal son, the family tensions rise. The dichotomy is apparent even in the simplistic names. The older brother, Sonny (Gary Gregg), is infantilized by his name. At one moment, he demands to be called by his real name, but we don't find out what that is. Maneen, the younger brother's name, has negative connotations of alpha maleness. Maneen is allowed to be an adult, as obnoxious as he is. Sonny, the child, is happily paralyzed with the "brains of a mechanic and the hands of a surgeon." His best friend is a chicken.

There are some holes in After Luke that even a rereading of the gospel can't fill. Exactly what is Sonny's situation? The play's core is the father-son bond, but we don't know who Sonny's father is. These are problems in structure, but ultimately we admire the father. He forgives the prodigal son seven times seven. And he treats Sonny as his own. His is an unconditional love for his boys. The wordless father in the second act epitomizes conditional love.

These two one-acts are beautifully juxtaposed. The father who isn't. And the father who is. Perhaps St. Luke is the unofficial theme of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival. First the Good Thief, then the Prodigal Son….

After Luke / When I Was God runs through Sept. 27 at the Irish Repertory Theatre.

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About Kate Shea Kennon