"Howie the Rookie"
Fairfield Theatre Company, Fairfield
“Howie the Rookie,” an Irish play which has just opened at the Fairfield Theatre Company, arrived with certain caveats. On opening night Producing Director Miles Marek assured the audience that the show was the most “challenging” the company had ever attempted, and the program itself, we quickly discovered, included a glossary of Irish slang.
These two factors should have set off warning bells. Nevertheless, we were hardly prepared for what followed--a play whose dialogue proved to be nearly unintelligible (at least three-fourths unintelligible). The play, set in a south Dublin working class neighborhood, is true to its own arcane language. Unfortunately, it is not the charming Irish brogue with which we are usually familiar, in the case of other Irish imports, and we were soon desperately, ineffectively, trying to follow the story line. Thus, watching “Howie the Rookie” was rather like viewing European opera, or a foreign film, without subtitles or supertitles.
Granted that both Mark Byrne and John O’Callaghan are marvelous Irish actors, who convey a range of emotions through their very physicality. And one gets enough of the general sense of the story to realize that this is the Irish version of the inner city—with its gangland loyalties, fierce battles, desperate poverty, random deaths. Playwright Mark O’Rowe knows whereof he writes, one feels. And through their very body language, the two actors also convey the black Irish humor which colors a tragic tale.
Each actor takes over one act, turning his act into a solo monologue. But the two stories connect, are welded into one. It is the tale (insofar as we could tell) of a night’s wandering through the bars and streets of Dublin (a veritable updated James Joyce “Ulysses”). Along the way, we see these men’s casual hard-bitten relationships with women, with their families, with their buddies. And when a phrase, a sentence, swims to the surface, suddenly clear, we realize how wildly funny and fierce and powerful this material is!
We must confess that the opening night audience appeared to be very enthusiastic about this piece, clapping wildly at the close. Had they all taken language lessons in advance?
Our own advice to director Nancy Malone: Do not change one whit of the power or pace or performances. But tone down the language, making it accessible to uninitiated ears, so that we non-Irish can appreciate what O’Rowe, Byrne, O’Callaghan and company have to offer!
-- Irene Backalenick
July 1, 2005