note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey
Thanks to the Sugan Theatre Company, Boston audiences have been able to witness the power of Tom Murphy's extraordinary plays. When Irish playwrights come to mind, Murphy's name will join the list with Friel, Behan, and O'Casey. You may remember Sugan's searing production of "Famine" or the magical "Gigli Concert. This time Murphy tackles the death of idealism in "Conversations on A Homecoming.
Murphy sends a native son back to Galway to his favorite watering hole to reminisce and relive the glory days with his childhood running mates. Times have changed and nobody's running any more. The boys and girls who wanted to change the world have changed their tune. Now they sing songs of regret and resignation. About all they can muster is good conversation, and only after half a dozen pints, at that.
One of their gang, the charismatic leader (who once reminded them of JFK) is an alcoholic and a no show. The one fellow who went to university (Sid Quilty in a bravura performance; his performance of a drunk is the best I've ever seen) now values money above meaning in life. The silver tongued orator (Brian Scally has never been better) now prides himself on never losing an argument; he gave up on lost causes long ago. And the prodigal son (Bill Meleady in a heartbreaking performance) who should have known you can't go home again, finds that even the youngest member of their band (Ciaran Crawford in an adorably droll performance) has responsibilities at home.
Murphy's play is just what the title claims: conversations about truth and reality steeped in Guinness, but Murphy's language and the strength of the characters take these "conversations" off the ground (something Wallie Shawn had a great deal of trouble doing travelling in similar territory with "Fever").
Hats off to Murphy for making it work, and to director Carmel O'Reilly who shuffles the bodies about so naturally and hilariously that you'd almost think the play is a comedy. (Murphy clearly intends "Conversations" to be tragic --- both small scale and large.)
O'Reilly performs as well as directs, nearly stealing every scene she's in as the chain-smoking, slow-moving den mother of the pub. Kudos, too, to Deidre Lenihan as the gentle representative of the future, and to Irene Daly as the long-suffering fiancée of the endearingly pompous schoolteacher. Laurel A. Dahill's shabby pub reflects the insular lives of its inhabitants and Sarah D. Pruitt's seventies costumes --- especially for Billy Meleady who's been in America and bought himself some loud silk shirts --- fit each character to a 'T'. You won't find better ensemble work anywhere in Boston.