Toby Schmitz's taut production of Mark O'Rowe's dark comedy returns to the Old Fitz for an encore season
In 2014, actor/writer/director Toby Schmitz took time out from playing pirates in Michael Bay's Emmy-winning Black Sails to direct an indie production of Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe's two-hander at his old stomping ground, the Old Fitzroy Theatre.
It opened in September – and was a triumphant start to resident company Red Line Theatre's takeover of the venue.
The same production – and cast – is returning to the Fitz in May (in place of Red Line's cancelled production of Metamorphoses).
Howie The Rookie debuted in 1999 and put Mark O'Rowe on the international map. A wild ride through Dublin's seedy ganglands, the play follows 'hard lad' Howie and 'ladies man' the Rookie through two nights of misadventure.
Howie is played by Steppenwolf-trained Andrew Henry (All My Sons) and the Rookie by Sean Hawkins (who co-starred with Schmitz in Bell Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in 2011).
Mark O'Rowe is one of those Irish writers with the gift of the gab and an ear for dialogue; his characters are pretty compelling too. This two-hander, which put O'Rowe on the international map as a playwright, is about the intertwined fates of local 'hard boy' The Howie Lee and 'ladies man' The Rookie Lee (just take those 'The's' as a given – must be summat the kids say).
The play's two back-to-back monologues, one per character, cover 48 hours in Dublin: we start with a story about a scabies-infested mat, owned by The Howie's pal Arly, which has brought pain and humiliation to its owner and its last 'occupant' – Arly and Howie's mate Peaches. The three decide to exact revenge on the culprit: The Rookie (but you get the distinct impression that these boys are looking for an excuse). We end with violence, a tragedy – and perhaps also a redemption.
As delivered here by actors Andrew Henry and Sean Hawkins (with believably Irish accents) the tale hooks you from start to finish of an 80-minute duration: supporting characters come alive in your mind's eye, sub-plots unravel, fight scenes have you on tenterhooks, tales of sexual misadventure have you squirming... Our narrators are funny, tragic characters who cannot be contained by the clichés of their rough as guts, pint-swilling adidas-tracksuit-wearing lives. Henry is particularly good in a role that runs the full emotional gamut.
Howie The Rookie is theatre at its most spartan: it doesn't need a set or props or a soundtrack – the words do the talking. Director Toby Schmitz (who cut his teeth at the Old Fitz back in the day) and designer Lisa Mimmocchi offer up a dingy urban set; a pile of beer bottle caps, kicked by each performer, gives you nice little jolt of shock – enough to keep you unsettled.