By June Baird
Opening quietly, the ensemble reads from a novel aptly titled The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle, one of the plays at the 1st Irish Theatre Festival. Soon, a gorgeous underscoring begins with an acoustic guitar, harmonium and glockenspiel, all played by the ensemble (composition by Rob Kearns). At first, reading directly from a novel seems odd, but as the play progresses, I realize it is the only way to tell this story.
We meet Jessica Bolger (Karen Sheridan), a cellist, frustrated in life while caring for her infant nephew. A knock at the door very late at night is the postman delivering 5,307 letters.
Meanwhile, Eric Argyle (Dave McEntegart) has died and finds himself standing trial in front of deceased members of society (allowing a direct address to the audience serving as this jury). Through pinnacle scenes from his life (and book – revealed to be sent one page at a time to Bolger’s address), we witness events throughout his childhood and adulthood. We learn the jury of the deceased will be coming to ‘a decision’ no later than 6:08 am thus providing tension and urgency throughout.
I was swept up into the characters in our title character’s life and found myself, unexpectedly, moved when the fates of each are revealed. Like reading any good novel, this production allows the audience to use their imagination inspiring a deep investment in everyone you meet. This is, in large part, due to Ross Dungan’s complex narrative expressing compassion, humor and several twists and turns, as well as Dan Herd’s simple, light touch as director. The set design (Colm McNally) was only suggestive and preserved the spectators’ creative mind to run at a rapid pace in creating the world.
A sort of Peter and the Starcatcher meets the work of Dermot Bolger, The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle is a most surprising, beautiful and unexpected play.
For an evening of brilliant storytelling and a gorgeous ensemble that include standouts Siobhan Cullen, Katie Lyons, Manus Halligan, James Murphy) commitment, visit 59E59 before September 29. The reveals of this story are worth the 95 minutes unfolding before you. www.1stIrish.org
Photos: Lucy Nuzum