Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce is alternatingly hilarious and horrifying, an elegantly ugly piece of work that puts many demands on its audience but even more on its actors. New Century Theatre Company’s staging doesn’t shy away from those demands at all; this is an aggressive, confidently mounted production that features a foursome of fearless actors embracing Walsh’s violent absurdity with aplomb.
Set entirely in a shithole London flat (given a pleasingly three-dimensional staging in the New City Theater’s deep stage space), the show opens on a trio of men wordlessly preparing, their utter solemnity clashing with the silliness of their actions. One irons a flouncy skirt he’ll later don; one attaches a wig to his carefully velcroed head; one frets over his grocery store purchases.
The way Walsh stingily dispenses narrative information is one of the show’s chief pleasures, as it only gradually becomes clear why these three men begin to engage in a whirlwind of wig swapping, costume changes, and elaborate backstory explanations. Turns out, it’s all a play within a play, as Dinny (Peter Crook) and his two sons Sean (Darragh Kennan) and Blake (Peter Dylan O’Connor) are reenacting a key day in the family’s history from when the boys were small and they still lived in Ireland. It’s an act they’ve done many times — maybe even hundreds of times — before.
A stickler for some kind of perverse verisimilitude, Dinny is outraged by any small mistake — there’s an acting trophy hanging in the balance here after all — and his slips out of character are generally accompanied by a glimpse at his terrifying skills of emotional manipulation. In this play for no audience, he only plays a younger version of himself, while his two sons take on all the other roles in a grand tale that might be wholly delusion
The delicate balance of the performance and the three men’s very lifestyle, increasingly revealed as grimmer and grimmer, may be upset by an outside force — Allison Strickland’s friendly supermarket cashier who inadvertently stumbles into the mess and becomes its first audience member and — just maybe — its first guest actress.
The performances here are brilliant across the board, with Crook leading the way with a ferocious turn as an utterly misguided patriarch, a figure in equal parts pathetic and chilling in his boundless self-aggrandizement. Lesser actors might get overshadowed by a turn like that, but Kennan and O’Connor are just as strong, their moments of comic relief small blips in a landscape of resignation. Both are superb at communicating the minor, fleeting joys they get from their father’s momentary approval, surfacing on their faces for just an instant before the ugly reality sets back in. While Strickland’s character is mostly there to catalyze a final act disruption, she’s a tremendous audience surrogate, giving face to the bemusement then terror one feels watching the play.
Directed by the sure hand of John Kazanjian, NCTC’s production of The Walworth Farce is a smart, wildly kinetic piece of theater. It’s on stage now through Oct. 27. Tickets are available for purchase online.