Reviewed – 17th May 2021
“moves like a large truck—slow to get going, but once on the move—impossible to stop”
Cameron Corcoran’s Stags, presented by Off Main Stage Productions at the Network Theatre, Waterloo, is an intense, gritty drama exploring all the unfinished business between a dead father and his two sons. Younger son Tony (Blake Kubena) returns home to find his father (Da, played by Tim Molyneux) dead in an armchair and surrounded by broken furniture. Tony’s older brother Conn (James Finnegan), just released from prison, is nowhere in sight.
In sixty minutes, Stags covers familiar territory made famous in the dramas of American playwrights Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard, but Corcoran gives it a decidedly Irish twist by setting the play in Dublin. Stags is a pressure cooker play, always hovering on the edge of violence, no matter how much civility smart blue suit Tony attempts to bring back to the wreckage he left behind. For starters, he’s still renting space in his memories to the abuse he suffered from his father and brother, and possibly his mother as well. The first half of Stags deals with all that as Tony confronts his father’s corpse in a memory play. The two rekindle, in bitter recriminations, the wary circling around that characterized their relationship when Da was alive. But Da is dead and confined to his armchair, so the resentments on both sides simmer along without resolution until the second half when Conn returns home. By now we know enough about Conn (and the way Da has nurtured violence in the home) to know it is only a matter of time before the brothers come to blows.
Playwright Corcoran handles this material with confidence. Stags moves like a large truck—slow to get going, but once on the move—impossible to stop. It smashes everything in its path. The play is a great piece for actors, and it gives Molyneux, Finnegan and Kubena plenty to do. Molyneux is particularly impressive, since he has to work from that armchair. Finnegan deftly handles the promise of violence fulfilled as Conn goads his younger brother into shedding his veneer of education and civility. Kubena holds the play together with a difficult role that requires him to shift between playing nice and exploding into nasty. Director Naomi Wirthner uses the space economically, and well. This is a bare bones production that focuses on the acting, and rightly so.
If you have a taste for this kind of drama, you’ll find Stags well worth your time. The Network Theatre space can be a challenge to find, but keep searching even if the location seems unlikely. The space, and this play, are well suited to one another.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Network Theatre until 22nd May
Reviewed this year by Dominica:
Lone Star Diner
Reviewed – 5th September 2019
“an interesting and very watchable production”
Absorbing the styles and visions of modern American playwrights and screen writers, Cameron Corcoran conjures up a contained, remote world in ‘Lone Star Diner’, illustrating the shattered American Dream from different angles and with emphasis on what he considers the overlooked perspective of women. The plot is neatly constructed, twisting through the dialogue to reveal the reasons behind the characters’ behaviour, relationships and decisions. The overall effect, however, is not so much a feminist standpoint in a misogynistic world, as an impression of hardship, helplessness and acrimony in the USA, in which Corcoran is influenced by TV series and films. The personalities in the play are clearly drawn from these. However, in recreating rather than growing into their own roles, they can only go skin deep and are consequently hindered from interacting with complete conviction.
Director, Mike Cottrell, works hard to build up the tension from slow, low-key suspense to the unexpected burst of the outcome, though the balance before and after the interval is like a team getting a talking-to at half time and pulling their socks up. In the end, Billie Hamer, as June, gives a strong performance, showing desperate frustration from a past of trauma and disappointment, but at the beginning she needs the jaded fragility of her suffering to be apparent and make sense of her actions. Seamus Dillane struggles with his American accent, somewhat undermining the ruthless confidence of Cyrus. His opening scene with June is sometimes too hurried and clumsy for someone who is emotionally detached; instead of the calculated persuasion of his vulnerable victim which should arouse our suspicions and empathy, it comes across as a heated discussion. As the exploitative employee Larry, Adrian Walker-Reilly goes for the sinister undertones and expressive eyebrows of Jack Nicholson. Unfortunately, he never quite achieves the malevolence and, though tied to an underpaid job, it is hard to understand June’s true fear of him. Jack Sunderland brings relief as Billy Lee, the lawman. Verging on over-mannered at first, he offers some captivating moments as he uncovers the complexity and confusion of his feelings and sense of personal debt and duty.
The black and white floor tiles and metal furniture of the set (Natasha Shirley) immediately set the scene, with the encroaching sand of the surrounding desert reminding us of the diner’s isolation. Daniel Maxted’s lighting design creates dramatic and atmospheric qualities throughout the show and which intensify the cinematic approach. As a reflection on the fraud, greed and inhumanity that has resulted from the American Dream’s ethos of freedom to attain prosperity and success, ‘Lone Star Diner’ is an interesting and very watchable production. Yet the focus on female liberation becomes overshadowed by the many peripheral ideas, from an outsider’s eyes, wound into the story to enhance the cultural image. The poignancy of modern American theatre comes from the fact that American playwrights are simply writing about life.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Lone Star Diner
Omnibus Theatre until 7th September
Previously reviewed at this venue: