Seanachai Theatre presents the U.S. premiere of LAY ME DOWN SOFTLY.
Playwright Billy Roche gives us ringside seats to his deconstruction of a makeshift family. Set in 1960s Ireland, Roche’s touring circus features a rifle arcade, a fortune teller and bumper cars. The main attraction is a boxing ring where locals can nightly challenge the champ. Roche recreates this world of hope and fatalism. His characters have ‘run away to the circus‘ for the promise of adventure. Now, they are stuck in this sideshow of real life.
From the start, Jeff Christian (Theo), Michael Grant (Peadar), Carolyn Klein (Lily), Dan Waller (Junior) and Matthew Isler (Dean) captivate with their brogues and barbs. Roche’s initial scene crackles with character intros. The brutish Christian barks orders to the steadfast Grant and sullen Waller. Meanwhile, Isler establishes himself as the ‘family’ blowhard. Isler hilariously cracks himself up during his ritual preening. The flirtatious Klein struts in to stir the pot. She is a delightful combination of faded sex kitten and the boss‘ girl. Director Kevin Christopher Fox skillfully pulls us into their messy monotony. Through inside jokes and overlapping conversations, the backstories unfold with authenticity.
The first act is riveting. Fox, with the aid of Lighting Designer Julian Pike, orchestrates scene transitions seamlessly. A fight’s knockout is illustrated with finesse. Pike effectively uses darkness and light to highlight and distract. Fox keeps the jabbing, in and out of the ring, intense. The tedium of this world has been substantiated. Now, the sudden arrival of Theo’s abandoned daughter Emer (played by plucky Jamie L. Young) seems the ideal vehicle to break up the routine. It doesn’t.
The second act loses its zest. Roche’s story becomes predictable. The budding romance between Waller and Young is convenient. It’s more mechanical than emotional. Fox’s direction is sluggish. Scenes have odd soundless gaps. Conversations lose their fervor. In Act One, the big personalities of Christian, Klein and Isler hold prominent focus. Klein’s ice cream licking suggests this trio has a feisty second half. They don’t. Their robust characters are sidelined.
LAY ME DOWN SOFTLY does just that. It comes out hard punching, jabbing and weaving. And then lays down softly… and slowly. Still, the show is enjoyable for a peek into the types of characters who run away to the circus.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes includes an intermission
At The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee
Written by Billy Roche
Directed by Kevin Christopher Fox
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
Thru May 25th
Buy Tickets at www.seanachai.org
Photo by Emily Schwartz.