The inventive perspectives on life brought to the stage by contemporary Irish playwrights continue to define the terrain occupied by 3-year-old D.C. theater troupe Solas Nua.
The inventive perspectives on life brought to the stage by contemporary Irish playwrights continue to define the terrain occupied by 3-year-old D.C. theater troupe Solas Nua. Current offering is the U.S. premiere of “Trad,” a disarming fable about discovery and communication between a father and son that marks the debut of writer, actor and standup comic Mark Doherty. A quirky tale with subtle humor and insight into Irish culture, the play won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh and has since been staged in Dublin, London and Australia.
Solas Nua a.d. Linda Murray directs with great sensitivity to the colorful world created by Doherty and to the historic themes lying beneath the play’s surface.
The principal subjects aren’t just any father and son. For starters, young Thomas (Michael John Casey) is in his 100th year, while Chris Davenport’s Da is, of course, even older. Nor are they exactly spry. Thomas is missing an arm and Da a leg.
Thus, absurdity is established early on as the pair lumber off on an impromptu journey to locate Thomas’ long-lost child, the existence of whom he casually let slip a few minutes earlier. Success is hardly assured, however, since they don’t know the name of the 70-year-old offspring or what he looks like. But they clearly have hope.
The dubious objective recalls Irish theater’s most famous pair of lost souls, Didi and Gogo. As Murray notes in her comments, Doherty’s yarn purposely pays homage to Ireland’s literary heritage, Yeats in particular. Actually, that seems the chief point of the exercise.
Yet this is a decidedly lighthearted journey, consisting of revolutions around Dan Brick’s set — an overturned rowboat in front of a screen. Through it all, Davenport’s Da is a delightfully snarling bundle of bluster, constantly brow-beating his insufferably whipsawed son with unassailable truths about what it means to be Irish. Casey is dead-on as the patient, intimidated lout who’s heard it all before.
A guarded tenderness is revealed in the duo’s relationship as the slim story unfolds, regularly lightened with running gags. “How’s your leg, Da?” asks Thomas. “Which one?” comes the terse reply.
In brief cameos, two other characters, both played by Stephanie Roswell, embellish the tale: an ugly shrew who puts the father and son’s mission in a relevant context and an aging priest who displays his limitations. The action is effectively accompanied by Irish melodies played by musicians just offstage.
An accessible writer with a fresh approach to large themes and an enjoyable feel for dialogue, Doherty is a welcome addition to the growing cadre of playwrights from the old sod gaining exposure in the U.S.