With characteristic dry humor, playwright Gregory Burke has been billing “Hoors” as the “disappointing follow-up to ‘Black Watch.’ ” Funny though this disclaimer is, there’s good reasoning behind it. Few new works could hope to match the acclaim of the National Theater of Scotland production, which just added foreign play honors from the New York Drama Critics Circle to its hefty haul of international awards. That “Hoors” falls short of that achievement is no surprise. What’s unfortunate is that this black comedy is also a disappointing follow-up to Burke’s earlier work.
It begins with a promising Orton-esque idea. Stage right on Conor Murphy’s rather too luxurious set is a coffin containing the corpse of Andy, a young man whose death was brought on by taking too many drugs during a stag weekend in Amsterdam before joining the mile-high club with a stewardess on the flight home. The day earmarked for his wedding has been rescheduled for his funeral.
Burke turns tragedy into comedy by introducing a set of characters with no inclination to grieve. Andy’s fiancee, Vicky (Lisa Gardner), has already realized she didn’t love him, and is relieved to have her future given back to her. Vicky’s sister Nikki (Catherine Murray) is a material girl who talks about her job in military research and development (an underdeveloped tangent), reminding us she has little love of humanity.
Stevie (Michael Moreland) has a severe case of male emotional inarticulacy, and has more coherent memories of the hedonistic excess of the stag weekend than he does of his friendship with Andy. Having established a new life in Dubai, Tony (Andy Clark) is a shallow opportunist who already has consigned Andy to the past.
Their indifference means the forthcoming funeral is less a moment of poignancy than a turning point, an opportunity to break from the past, interrupt old routines and make a new future.
Structurally, this leaves Burke with two problems. The first is that the most vivid action has either happened before the play begins or promises to take place in the future, leaving the characters at a point of stasis. Their conversation — however witty and ribald — takes the place of real dramatic action. The second problem is there’s little serious conflict, only some minor scores to be settled. Nobody is on hand to be affronted by their disrespect for the dead, so there’s little shock value in their irreverence.
On top of this, helmer Jimmy Fay fails to draw out the full raucous power of Burke’s writing. Although there are some very funny volleys, the script is hampered by an uneven pace, partly because of the way Murphy’s revolving set starts moving before scenes are over, and partly because Murray and Gardner, despite spirited performances, rarely capture the full-on attack of the playwright’s language. Moreland and Clark are more successful in this respect — perhaps a reflection of Burke’s feel for the rhythms of male speech. But the play never takes off in the manner of his earlier “Gagarin Way” in terms of either comedy or the articulation of its potentially interesting themes.