Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Red Roses and Petrol"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Beverly Creasey

"Red Roses and Petrol"
an odd mixture

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Given the incendiary title of the Sugan's latest production, and their well deserved reputation for presenting searing political theater, you may be surprised that "Red Roses and Petrol" is a rather tame domestic drama. Novelist Joseph O'Connor explores the emotional breakdown of a contemporary Irish family whose father has died, setting the stage for a rancorous reunion at the funeral. The quirk in O'Connor's plainly conventional script is that we get to meet father via videotapes he secretly made at work. No, not the tabloid kind: more the sololoquy sort of "last will and testament" type, alas.

The Sugan's production is crisp and well acted, with a couple of extraordinary performances --- notably from director Aidan Parkinson as ther acerbic, alcoholic son, and from Ciaran Crawford as the disillusioned daughter's hopelessly earnest boyfriend. Were it not for these two characters providing bite and humor, the story might have degenerated into soap opera. As it is, the dramatic stakes are awfully small to support the operatic length of almost three hours. "Did mother know or didn't she about father's extra-marital affair?" is a mighty thin premise for a play set in 1995

If the playwriight is attempting a psychological study, he never delivers on the daughter's opening question "Mother, what went wrong with us?" We hear plenty of complaints from the children, but we never really find out. At one point pretty far along into the play, O'Connor inexplicably veers into WoodyAllen territory, complete with a cocaine gag. Then, at the very last moment, the son confesses his big secret (which isn't so big) and we get a most confusing account of father's indiscretion, which left me wondering if the unwelcome girlfriend at the funeral was in actuality his illegitimate daughter? After three hours, the bloody explanation ought to be clear, for heaven's sake.

Complaints about the playwright aside, Sugan always manages to stage first class productions. Aidan Parkinson's direction is so remarkably inventive (in such a static story) that you almost don't notice the length of the evening. Eileen Nugent gives a spunky performance as the daughter who stayed in Ireland. Irene Daly gives off sparks as the feisty, unhappy child who left --- and she gives a lovely, nuanced performance as her own mother at a young age, as does Crawford as the young father. Only Sarah deLima, as the mother, seemed a bit too jaunty for a grieving widow. Unfortunately it was difficult to get a sense of the father (Brian Scally) from those videos. Mick Spense's set bespeaks shabby genteel, with books dominating the walls and Sarah D. Pruitt's costumes neatly and quietly complement the characterizations.

"Red Roses And Petrol" (till 22 November)
BCA Theatre, Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-0320 [TTY 1(617)348-2926]

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