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Theater review: Crackskull Row at the Workshop Theater

Written by
Helen Shaw

Nasty details pile up in Honor Molloy's eldritch thriller, little clues that things aren't all right. A woman dips her hand into a basin and the water turns bloody; a visitor enters through the fireplace. It doesn't take long to realize that not everyone in Molloy's Crackskull Row is alive—or at least, not everyone is alive right now. Generations fade into each other in a tumbledown Dublin house, and fae spirits show up to fix the wonky plumbing. Ah, but something else ain't right here either. Though Molloy's writing is deft, there are slips 'twixt her skill and the show itself.

On the page, mind, Crackskull is gorgeous—and more than once in its performance we're swept along in the patter of the four violence-plagued Moorigans: father Basher (Colin Lane), mother Masher (Terry Donnelly), son Rasher (John Charles McLaughlin) and daughter Dolly (Gina Costigan). They're capable of a lot, these Moorigans, from flights of rapture to astonishing ugliness; turns out they have been for thirty years. “Man-of-Hunger,” the young Masher (Costigan) tells a lover, “You'll be my ruin forever with them gentle hands.” Oh yes, we think, having seen her future. Yes, he will be.

The sheer density of Molloy's lyricism has the effect of delaying our understanding. How can we keep up with her giddy spate of malapropism, quotation, joke and curse? The literary dazzle keeps us distracted, so as each dirty bit of wickedness unfolds, our actual comprehension comes in staggered waves. Word by word, the text is beautifully constructed, but it asks for magic, and Kira Simring's un-beautiful production hasn't got much of a spell to cast. A great deal of the trouble is casting. Donnelly stays pert even in the face of black doom; Lane (so fierce in other shows) can't connect to the material at all. Happily, though, the younger pair was made to speak this stuff. It doesn't happen often in the play's 80 minutes, but occasionally they have a scene together. You wait the whole show for these moments—only in them does Molloy's witchcraft do its work.

Workshop Theater (Off-Off Broadway). By Honor Molloy. Directed by Kira Simring. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. Through Sept 25. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

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