Many times in this life, I’ve seen an endless amount plays/movies/TV shows about writers and their tribulations. In fact, I did one myself, right at the beginning of my writing career while I was still in college. The play was chosen for a New Playwrights Festival and it was about a writer dealing with writer’s block and the problems that were causing it. I will never forget when it was done and my mentor was still in the audience. At the time it was known that if she didn’t like a play, she would leave during intermission. She didn’t because of me. Her words will forever stay in my head “The thing about writers writing about writing is that it comes out as pretentious and self-serving.” Since then, every play I’ve seen like this one I’ve held to that. I would say very rarely she’s been wrong. Well, Hugh Leonard’s “DA” dares to say different.
My mentor’s thought was that when you show that much personal life on stage, it becomes a biased work. Sure, but what if it goes beyond personal? What if it’s an exploration of the creative process without touching the process itself? The award winning play touches on subjects that cover a wide spectrum of people. The main theme is the idea of simple life against the most refined upper class style. The dream of living elsewhere, of making it in a big city, of leaving everything back with the simpletons that live in that old town. Let’s go where the bohemia is plenty and culture is exploding. The crowds are smart and the dumb population is ignored. But what about those simple men and women? How could they do anything good when all they say is yes? To paraphrase a line from a character in the play: “They smile at the new day if it’s sunny, and stay quiet when it’s raining.”
The production put together by The Irish Repertory Theater is one that goes with the magnificent script like peanut butter and jelly. The actors are firing in all cylinders, not afraid to act silly and turn it around with a certain bittersweet seriousness. The questions asked are answered with such beauty through each of this group of thespians’ choices. Ciarå O’Reilly was perfect as Charlie, the writer trying to get rid of his dad’s ghost and move on with his life. As he goes through flashbacks that detail his past, we get to see the man who exists today and why he is so distant from his foster father. His performance is one to notice as he takes us into this deep exploration with him without missing a beat. Adam Petherbridge does an equally uncompromising performance, which relies on great physicality and timing. They must have studied each other’s characteristics, which helped the audience ease into believing one was the younger self of the other. Paul O’Briend, Fiana Tolbin, and Sean Gormley all keep them at their best as the parental figures. Mr. O’Briend plays the titular character “Da” Nick Tynan with such love it’s hard not to feel sympathetic toward him, even when he is in the wrong. His childlike persona is such a great contrast to Young Charlie’s adult wonder. Gormley and Fiana work perfectly as the ones to inspire Charlie to dislike his father. Both do it, one purposely, the other out of ignorant anger. The rest of the cast more or less keeps up with these incredible performers, especially John Keating as Oliver. He is subtle and offbeat at the same time, unlike the world he lives in. If there’s one hitch in the play, it would be the performance by Nicola Murphy. It was vivid without actually having much life behind it.
The performances were complimented by a set that instantly transported us to Ireland. Detailed almost to obsession by James Morgan, everything that was touched on-stage just added to the experience. The lighting design by Michael Gottlieb changes the atmosphere flawlessly and it was aided by the fantastic work Zach Williamson did with sound. Productions often live or die depending on the tactical prowess of the designers. Here, they work like a single mind and it only elevates the production.
Good productions get everything to work like a controlled symphony. Here, there’s not one part that works better than the other. Everything is in sync, and that’s what Charlotte Moore (director) has put together. In the end, I sat there sure that I had just seen one of the best Off-Broadway productions in a while. Not only did it prove my mentor wrong, but also it helped me deal with issues I think about constantly. Hugh Leonard’s “DA” will be playing at the DR2 Theater until March 8th. That’s plenty of time to make it down there and enjoy this amazing Irish play. I’m Latino, and yet it still felt like home. The play is timeless, but the run is not. Make sure you see it.
And for the first time, I’m using a rating system. Out of 4 stars DA gets:
Twisted Talk: What’s the last Off-Broadway show you’ve seen in the city? Will you check out “DA”?