Theater review by Adam Feldman
To attend a play by the prolific modern Irish dramatist Enda Walsh is always to enter a strange new world, often sealed within itself with a byzantine system of internal rules and references. His latest work to reach New York offers more of the same, but at unusually close quarters: The audience at Irish Arts Center finds itself in what might be the rec room of a mental institution, seated on all four sides of the small central playing space, mere feet away from the cryptic action. This propinquity is of a piece with the unsettling, enmeshed intimacy of the relationship between its two characters. Both are named Lisa, and they have a passing physical resemblance, though one (the wary, deep Catherine Walsh) is somewhat older than the other (a stunningly raw Eileen Walsh). More mysteriously, they seem to share a common history. “How do we have the same memory me and you?” wonders the younger one. “Can we be the same person, Lisa?”
Can they? Anything is possible in Walshworld, where metaphor bleeds into reality like ink in the wash. The playwright uses the ambiguities of theatrical space to sow confusion about exactly what it is we are witnessing. Does the overlap of the Lisas in The Same evoke the intensity of recognizing one’s own experience in another person? Are they the same person at different times in their lives—the older one haunted, and threatened, by a memory of her more unstable younger self? Is there an element of genetics at play? (The Lisas’ recently deceased mother appears to have been insane, and the Walshes who play them are real-life sisters, though unrelated to the playwright.) Director Pat Kiernan keeps the action popping with brief interludes of music and video, but in the absence of the more spectacular elements of such recent Walsh works as Medicine, Arlington and Ballyturk, The Same keeps you engrossed mainly through the quality of its writing and its high-wire performances. It packs a lot of emotion and enigma into under 50 minutes—just the right length to keep us at once drawn in and too close for comfort.
The Same. Irish Arts Center (Off Broadway). By Enda Walsh. Directed by Pat Kiernan. With Eileen Walsh, Catherine Walsh. Running time: 50mins. No intermission.
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