Saturday, February 11, 2012

A new play with reference to Matt Talbot

"Those Sick and Indigent"

Peter Crawley

Fri, Jan 13, 2012

Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin

Everybody has a life story, but they rarely come to a satisfactory conclusion. Take Matt Talbot, a man who would have gone almost unnoticed as he hurried between work and Mass in the 1920s, until he died from a sudden heart attack and revealed a body bound with heavy chains and his own penitent narrative.

Alan O’Regan’s debut play makes room for a reference to Talbot, in all his destitution and saintliness, as it performs a similar act of excavation, interested not in building up a character, but in unearthing one.

When the play opens, Jack Gannon, a resident in a homeless shelter, has already passed away, and his few possessions are itemised by a strait-laced care worker, Ronan (Shane O’Reilly), assisted by the gregarious and conniving Finbar “The Cad” Lyons (Mark Lambert) and the near-catatonic Oxo (Gerry O’Brien).

The difficulty O’Regan and his director Daniel Reardon have anticipated, but not quite overcome, is how a lifetime can be translated into stage time. The play attempts to piece the absent figure together relic by relic: his radio, a photograph, a book on Talbot, a devotional scapular, and, of course, a lengthy letter.

The curious effect of this unhurried reconstruction is that three actors have been employed to perform a one-man show, more functionaries than characters.

O’Reilly does well with a nothing role (he’s principally there to read) and O’Brien is all nervy focus in a part that hints at wells of significance (he’s principally there to rock back and forth), but Lambert, with nervous scratching and loquaciousness, has been given the mannerisms that generally pass for a character.

If the play seems to belong to another time, it’s because The Cad seems to have stumbled in directly from Sean O’Casey’s Dublin; a self-confessed “bowsie”, trailing songs, mythologies and malapropisms, and certainly the only homeless person in 2012 to begin a sentence with, “Begoddin”.

You couldn’t accuse Those Sick and Indigent of romanticising homelessness: “A lifetime in doorways makes you – what’s the word – suskeptible,” says The Cad. (Okay, maybe you could.) But largely it avoids the issue, alluding to The Cad’s much grimmer backstory without exploring it. O’Regan’s writing is most affecting when Gannon – through the letter – can speak for himself, but the theatre is better at showing than telling.

“We’ve all had tragedies, sir,” counters The Cad, “His is no better than mine.” If this short piece had more space to develop, he might prove his point.

Note: An excerpt of this play can be found at