Hilarity in the House of Atreus
by Beatrice Williams-Rude
Dyin’ For It, by Derek Murphy, is the funniest play I’ve seen in years. How to describe it? Think Greek tragedy filtered through Mel Brooks.
It’s part of 10-year-old Origin’s 1st Irish Festival featuring the work of playwrights from Dublin, Belfast, Boston and New York. Murphy was born and educated in Ireland, came to New York and stayed. But he brought his roots with him.
Dyin’ For It concerns the father of a dysfunctional family who’s been sent home from the hospital so he could die in his own bed. He proceeds not to do so greatly vexing his wife and two of his children.
Deirdre, the daughter who’s a nurse, struggles to keep him alive, putting pillows under his head to make breathing easier. She tries mightily to get her mother (Nancy) and her sister to come up (to the second floor) to see the patient. Oh, they’ll come but why not have a cup of tea first—and a drop of wine. It’s only when Deirdre notes that “he’s pink” a sign of improvement that they come, and are not pleased by the situation.
Daughter Bridget, who blames her father for her loss of an eye, is equally hostile to her mother.
The adored son, Paddy, is in America, “banished to America,” we later learn. He says he’ll never return while his father lives, and suggests that the angel of death be assisted. This is not a comedy of manners, but rather a comedy of morals.
By the end of the first act, while viewers’ sides may have hurt from laughing, the focus was on what could the father have possibly done to have so alienated his family? When we learn this, as Deirdre is finally being told the truth, we also discover what the mother had done before the father’s very eyes that triggered the explosion that fractured the family and sent Paddy to America. The deus ex machina is alcohol. The mother’s excuse for her behavior is that she was inebriated.
Derek Murphy’s comic genius taps the explosive humor in coupling the ordinary with the outrageous. When practicing smothering the father using a cabbage for his head, the mother wants to make certain that everybody’s hands are clean because after the new pillow has served its purpose as a murder instrument, she plans to return it to the store and get her money back.
The quartet of performers in Dyin’ For It could give lessons in ensemble playing. They are all superb: Maria Deasy as the mother, Nancy; Aoife Williamson as Deirdre; Sarah Street as Bridget; and Adam Petherbridge as Paddy.
The dazzling split-second timing must be credited to the splendid direction of John Keating.
The play, a world premiere, was produced by the multitalented Maria Deasy and the brilliant playwright Derek Murphy.
Set and graphic design by Joanne Steinhardt; lighting by Derek Van Heel; sound by Nick Abeel; stage manager, Robert Neapolitan.
Dyin’ For It plays at The Cell, 338 West Twenty-Third Street (between Eighth-Ninth Aves. in Manhattan) through Jan 28.
Running time is 100 minutes including a 10-minute intermission.