Laoisa Sexton’s The Pigeon in The Taj Mahal, directed by Alan Cox, is an intriguing play. Though it does not take place in India and the pigeon is not a burnt offering for sacrifice, the protagonist – simple, naive and innocent Eddie the Pigeon – is a symbol of sacrifice in the play. And by the conclusion, Sexton’s themes ring clear: sometimes random meetings between individuals result in goodness; serendipitous moments with the right individuals may dissolve the veneer of personality and allow true communication and heartfelt emotion to break through.
Such happens to Lolly/Friday (played effervescently by the playwright) whose encounter with Eddie the Pigeon (the always interesting John Keating) manages to ground the wayward young woman, who is lost in an abusive relationship with the vengeful Josie, her abrasive, tormented, on-again-off-again fiancé (the all-too-briefly-appearing Johnny Hopkins).
The sardonic play begins with an intriguing sound that very well might be a banshee, a fairy with mischief on its mind, or an otherworldly creature that remains hidden behind an invisible cloak of an alternate reality. Or perhaps it is in Eddie the Pigeon’s heightened imagination, or a goat that wanders the area. Sexton’s uncertainty is delicious, and the being rises up when least expected and most needed toward the conclusion of the play.
Eddie lives in a caravan in the ironically named Taj Mahal trailer park, a remote building site that hasn’t seen building in a while and reminds one of a desolate area of lost dreams or a burial ground of wandering souls who fit in nowhere. Such a soul is Eddie, who lives alone, provides security for the site, and listens to Elvis’s music after he comes home from work. Eddie’s routine is upended when Josie, in a fit of jealous rage, drops off an unconscious Lolly at his doorstep. He rescues her from the damp and dark and brings her into the warmth of his decrepit 1970s mobile home and uneventful life.
Initially, Eddie speaks to her nonstop. Living in isolation with few visitors, he rattles on to the unconscious Lolly about his background, his mother’s death, his work, and his enjoyment of Elvis, whose music we hear playing. When she eventually awakens, confused at her surroundings, she is paranoid and believes Eddie to be a dangerous man whom she must keep at bay with a knife. Sexton reveals Lolly’s inability to discern between good and evil, between a dangerous threat like Josie or a benign, harmless individual like Eddie.
As well as possible after Lolly has awakened, Eddie navigates her ire, paranoia, and obstreperousness with flexibility, kindness, and good will. With a sweet, simple innocence, he shows her a gentler way of being than she is used to from her boyfriend’s malevolent treatment and her disorganized and chaotic lifestyle. As she gradually spends time and conversation with Eddie, she eventually realizes his nature. After she phones Crystal Chandelier/Aunty Rosie (Zoe Watkins) who comes to meet her (dragging a lewd blowup doll with her), the three have a rollicking time with Josie’s cocaine and Eddie’s mom’s alcohol, carrying on with jokes and swap stories.
The playwright has contrived Lolly’s and Aunty Rosie’s partying with Eddie to reveal their characters, and that’s the meat of the action. Illuminated are the women as lost souls; Lolly and Aunty Rosie are searching for love. Their aimless lives are like vacuums without meaning or purpose. Though they are good-time gals without an apparent care in the world, the playwright strips away their masks enough for us to recognize that their carousing and ribald behavior are an attempt to force fun because there is no comfort or happiness.
Sexton and Watkins convey this raucous forced fun with authenticity. As a result we note that in the souls of these characters there is a striving loneliness and sorrow. Both women are as remote to themselves as Eddie is as remote and isolated in this part of Ireland. Yet somehow Eddie appears more content and flexible to life’s realities than they are.
The climax is sparked by Josie’s return to pick up Lolly and retrieve his cocaine. His jealous nature sports to fight Eddie, the gentle innocent. The canyon of personality differences between the two men is deep and wide: Josie appears puerile and unjust; his need to fight Eddie is ridiculous. Who and what comes to Eddie’s defense is humorous and also carries a glimmer of the surreal and mysterious.
By the conclusion Lolly has recovered a deeper, more humane part of herself and an appreciation of Eddie that a day ago she would have been incapable of seeing. Sexton conveys the theme that chance happenings may change us for the better if we are open and flexible to receive what destiny may offer from the most unlikely sources.
The set design, staging, and music cohere to make The Pigeon in The Taj Mahal an entertaining theatrical evening. The production runs until December 31 at the Irish Repertory Theatre in NYC. It is 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available online.