Tuesday, February 9, 2016





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce is a perfect example of Marx’s observation, that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”  Inis Nua Theatre Company presents this very Irish, very theatrical play about families and violence and the endless acting out of the past. Tom Reing directs and J. Alex Cordaro choreographs the fights, of which there are many.

Two grown sons and their father live in dilapidated fifteenth floor walkup apartment on the Walworth Road in London. When we first meet them, Blake (Harry Smith) is ironing a dress which he then puts on. His brother Sean (Jake Blouch in a dazzling and moving performance) is in the kitchen, dismayed at discovering a giant salami in his supermarket bag. Their father (Bill Van Horn) is polishing a shoe; they are all readying themselves for the performance that is their lives. 

Each day they act out the events of the past: their mother’s funeral, cooking a chicken, two little boys torturing a dog—it’s all murder, money, wills. Their saga of leaving Cork, Ireland and fleeing to England is full of horror and, at least in the first act, is very funny since it involves the two sons playing all the roles: Harry Smith is amazingly adept at putting on and taking off wigs as he plays all the women in the family, while Jake Blouch shifts walks and accents to portray their husbands. The insularity  is broken when Hayley (Leslie Nevon Holden) appears with the bag of groceries Sean left behind.

Enda Walsh is one of the heirs apparent to the Irish Theatre throne, currently occupied by Brian Friel  (if Martin McDonagh is the wild, lunatic prince, Enda Walsh is the weird, obsessive one).  Like Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come!, this play, The Walworth Farce, is also an immigration story, but of a very different sort. And like Walsh’s earlier play, Bedbound, ( Inis Nua’s production in 2010 was spectacularly good ),  Walworth is  an endless  recital of past triumphs and terrors. And like Walsh’s brilliant later play, Penelope, this one is about people who are trapped by the stories they inhabit, characters who cannot escape the larger narrative somebody else wrote.

The problem with this play—besides the inconsistency of the accents--is the repetition; it’s the defining device for both its plot and its theme, but it necessitates our watching the same thing, more or less, over and over. Once we get it, there’s not much left to get. Most Irish plays celebrate storytelling (consisder McDonagh’s Pillowman or Conor McPherson’s The Weir), but here Walsh sees that Irish inclination as  self-deluding performance, a way of fictionalizing self, of  denying the present and the outside world. As the father asks, “For what are we, Maureen, if we’re not our stories?” The question is an indictment, not a celebration of contemporary Ireland.


Inis Nua Theatre Co. at Off-Broad Street Theatre at First Baptist Church, 17th & Sansom Sts. Through May 27. Tickets $20-25.   Information: 215-454-9776 or www.inisnuatheatre.org

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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