A round of drinks shared by old friends may sound like a harmless idea at first, but it only takes a few beers to make silver tongues venomous. The quartet at the center of Tom Murphy’s 1985 drama learns this lesson when joyful reminiscing becomes vengeful smack talk with each successive round of beer and/or whiskey. An Irish play set in a bar full of angry men isn’t the most novel concept, but Jonathan Berry directs a nuanced, layered production populated by actors who are skilled at stripping down their characters as more alcohol is imbibed.
The group gathers to celebrate Michael’s (Adam Soule) return to Galway after ten years in the United States as an aspiring actor, hitting the local pub that they helped remodel back in the day. Michael learns how his friends and the town have changed since his departure, with the conversation largely focusing on the absent J.J., an inspirational figure from their youth who has proven to be a drunken crook. Berry's naturalistic direction works well in his first production at Strawdog, creating a strong sense of intimacy within the bar.
Murphy juggles politics, economics, adult disillusionment, and a hefty amount of inebriated singing in his script, but like an actual juggling act, it gets repetitive if the same balls are constantly thrown in the air. The same arguments are reiterated at varying levels of intensity, primarily via Tom (Michael Dailey), Michael’s best friend who's developed resentment toward just about everyone in his life.
Despite some inconsistent dialects, the cast understands the rhythm of Murphy’s dialogue and keeps the pace moving. Ed Porter’s Liam strikes a fine balance between overcompensating blowhard and charitable loner, and Jeff Duhigg is essential to lightening the somber mood as Junior, the group’s heaviest drinker. The cast does impressive work capturing the shift of these relationships over time, establishing a familiarity at the start of the play that deteriorates once the booze starts flowing and secrets rise to the surface.