Contemporary Irish theater is the single entree menu served by Solas Nua, a D.C.-based troupe in its second season that performs at arts incubator Flashpoint and other venues. (One of those venues was a swimming pool during last summer’s D.C. Fringe Festival.) The company offers the first U.S. glimpse at emerging Irish playwrights including Enda Walsh (“Disco Pigs”), writer-in-residence at Dublin’s Abbey Theater, who specializes in dark themes such as those expressed in the richly disturbing “The Small Things.”
This Walsh play is the second mounted by Solas Nua (Gaelic for “new light”), headed by Dublin actress and artistic director Linda Murray. Last season included his play “Bedbound,” about a father and his crippled daughter confined to the same mattress.
The influence of Samuel Beckett is evident in “The Small Things,” a 2-year-old play making its U.S. debut. Two individuals, identified as “man” and “woman,” occupy a tiny stage in distinct orbs where they engage in mostly solitary and disjointed introspection. The characters are actually on two separate mountaintops, with the house of each visible to the other on clear days through a window.
She mostly jabbers about meaningless subjects like dust on the knick-knacks that adorn her table; he recalls delicious meringues and his mother’s breasts.
The soliloquies slowly reveal the common theme of a shared childhood in a seemingly idyllic village where certain adults did terrible things to innocent boys and girls. Indeed, it is to escape those gruesome memories that the two have fled to separate existences where they might as well be the last two people on Earth. Yet they have each other and those eternal thoughts.
Walsh’s writing blends comedy and tragedy into an emotionally powerful package. Like other works from the prolific playwright, including “The Walworth Farce,” it is a distorted yet lyrical tapestry that takes on its subjects glancingly rather than head-on.
The duo’s sad existence, where “life and death paused,” is convincingly interpreted by D.C.-based actors Kate Debelack and Chris Davenport.
Debelack, who performed here last season in Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” at Studio Theater, is delightfully preoccupied with those seemingly trivial knick-knacks until she reveals their true purpose: They free her mind from thoughts of madness.
Davenport’s dialogue is rich with humorous reflections that steadily gain a grim momentum, enhanced by his frenzied and increasingly compelling looks of hurt and shame.
For the most part, director Karen Akerley has planted the two on chairs from which they seldom stray, except to glance at the window and occasionally interact.
The true meaning of the play is tantalizingly murky, just like its dialogue. A metaphor for the Emerald Isle’s divided countries that share a tortured past, perhaps? Why not.