The King of Mackie Street

By Eric Lucas
Directed by Andrea "Spook" Testani
Vital Theatre Company
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut

The King of Mackie Street is a wonderfully poignant dervish of a play, written by Eric Lucas. Directed exactingly by Andrea "Spook" Testani, with a passionate cast, the show delivered capably on nearly all of its promises.

The action is set in a small town in Southern Ireland, recently enough to mention Jerry Springer, but spiritually as old as the world that is crumbling around Francis McKeon (Bill Buell), the once-renowned "King" of Mackie Street, who slogs through retirement with a mad companion named Dicky "Ween" O'Dowd (Sam Tsoutsouvas), whose dislike of "encumbrance" often catches him with his pants down, and a skittish nephew named Billy Sayre (Mario Campanaro) -- all under the unnervingly silent eyes of his brilliant but barren wife, Moya, who kept a sad secret for too long. Hilarity and terror punctuate McKeon's misadventures, sprinkled liberally with alcohol, gambling, theft, and violence, despite the Bible placed at dead center on the lower shelf of the table. There is no doubt that the cronies will bungle their final scheme -- the devil is only in the details.

Especially fine work informed the relationship between McKeon and O'Dowd, as Buell and Tsoutsouvas picked at each other's weak spots just to show they cared. At the core of their friendship, however, is a troubling, who-done-it tale of the slaughter of a goat. Pamela Dunlap, as Moya, perturbingly silent during the first act, delivered the payoff performance in an anguished monolog in the second. Moya may have missed the word "skillful" in a national competition, but Dunlap left no nuance unexplored in the skills arena of this play.

As a nemesis, policeman and widower Eamon Boyle (Alex Wipf) contributed vexing tension as the arresting authority figure. Sex was often a subject, but intimacy was a bitter casualty, as Francis learned at the worst possible moment. Except for occasional lapses in brogue, a serpentine, authentically Irish mayhem imploded with a vengeance in McKeon's putative kingdom. The story exists in a tragic gray area, unhinged from the moral vision of black and white, epitomized painfully by one character's naive and amusing observation that the director of the film Raging Bull couldn't "afford colored film."

Scenic (Shoko Kambara) and lighting (Andrew Keegan) designers took advantage of every nook and cranny of the stage, sparing no expense to render the period and the power of the story. Earth-toned costumes (Cathy Small) emphasized the ordinary in the characters' lives. From the often-askew, prominently placed portrait of John F. Kennedy, to the lesser one of Jesus Christ, to the floral lace motif repeated in the living-room wall paper --this was uniquely and lovingly the true-blue home that Moya MacKeon had tended for her ungrateful and uncomprehending husband, Francis. Lighting implied theatrically the passage of both time and of judgment. Provocative sounds, particularly from the world thudding outside the house, contributed to the foreboding of the set. Lastly, sprightly Irish incidental music heightened the drama of the story. As the action escalated, it became difficult to identify the familiar surroundings, thanks to the combination of those effects.

The play, which premiered as part of the Irish Arts 2000 Festival in Washington, D.C., has already received prestigious awards including Kennedy, Center New American Play finalist and the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award. Deservedly so.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 Deborah S. Greenhut