1501 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Of a New Generation of Irish Playwrights: Enda Walsh on
The Walworth Farce
On inspiration for The Walworth Farce:
"I would leave my flat and walk down the road at exactly 9:15 and each day I would look into a house and see this father and mother and a son always standing in the same position. I could see there was Irish stuff on the wall, that they were an Irish family. But I was fascinated that they were always there. . . They were always doing the same thing, I was doing the same thing, and the world continued and had seconds in it and minutes and hours, and everything had some sort of pattern to it. That moment -- seeing them -- really, really influenced 'The Walworth Farce' in terms of characters who need to exist in a very structured way."
On writing The Walworth Farce:
“It is a sort of rite of passage for an Irish playwright to write the play about the immigrants abroad, dealing with the nostalgia for back home. So, I literally just sat down and thought, ‘Well, fuck. I’ll just write it.’ And I started writing it and there was a knock on the door in the play on the first page and two boys came in with a coffin. And I thought, oh my God, I’m going to write a farce! So I stopped and thought, I’m going to have to learn the constructs of a farce!”
On The Walworth Farce:
“The play isn’t about words. It’s not about information. It’s about the power between the characters, and the way they use the story. A lot of the time, I want to turn the volume down on all these words, and just trace the characters’ emotional connection to what it is they’re talking about.”
On being an Irish playwright:
“I feel as if I’m connected with decades of Irish writing; I can see, in my own work, echoes of what they were writing . I’m not consciously chasing it down but it’s in our DNA, these great playwrights and story tellers and I’m proud of that.”
“My intention is to make a part impossible for an actor. I have to bring them to a point of just despair. Just logically when you begin to think about this character, your brain just has to go all over the place! And it’s endless. And that to me is excellent. I mean, you want to do that to an audience, but to do that to an actor first: you know that the actor is going.”
London became an increasingly common destination for Irish immigrants after World War II. The majority of Irishmen settled in London’s Kilburn High Road in northwest London, which continues today to have the highest Irish population in the city at 13%. Transitioning from Ireland to England is a difficult process and the London Irish Centre, which was opened in 1955, has served as a support organization for newly arrived and settled Irish immigrants as well as a center for Irish culture and traditions for decades.
Regardless of these welfare programs, a 2006 study found that Irish migrants in Britain have a higher rate of depression and suicide than any other minority ethnic group. For Irish-born immigrants, the cause of depression is often related to a longing for homeland. Additionally, Scots and Irish people living in England and Wales are twice as likely to die of alcohol abuse than locals, a recent study claimed (The Scotsman). For Irish-born immigrants, the cause of depression can be related to a longing for homeland. Blake observes that Dinny suffers this fate when he tells his brother, “Dad all talk of Ireland…everything’s Ireland. His voice is stuck in Cork so it’s impossible to forget what Cork is.”
Irish immigrants have also been subjected to the labels of substandard citizen and ethnically inferior by the native English. Dinny jokes “that Londoners like nothing more than skinning an Irishman halfway through his drink.” With the two countries at peace, negativity towards the Irish is reduced, and most Irish migrants assimilate into British society. Some, however, still suffer the backlash of anti-Irish prejudice.
[Read The Washington Post Review]
Farce and The Walworth Farce
“Noises Off is the most brilliantly written play. It’s perfect. I read it and re-read it.”
– Enda Walsh
In The Walworth Farce, a father forces his two sons to reenact an eventful day from their past. Performing in a farcical style, the family dashes through their reconfigured apartment swapping costumes, wigs, props, and identities in a high energy, fast paced drama. Within this play-within-a-play, Walsh closely adheres to the rules and structure of classic, high farce.
Farce is a dramatic work that frequently includes complicated plot, the use of puns, quick verbal wordplay, innuendo, disguises and mistaken identity. Major farces include Moliere’s Tartuffe, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, and Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Farces can also be found in film and television.
According to Michael Frayn, playwright of the contemporary farce Noises Off, all farces, regardless of their generally light tone, come from the primordial human emotions of panic and fear. "Panic causes people to respond to crises in irrational but perfectly believable ways,” he explains. “I used to be asked in interviews why I wrote farce instead of writing about real life, which always made me wonder what the lives of the interviewers must be like. Hasn't everyone had one of those days when absolutely everything goes wrong – usually as a result of some minor problem spiraling out of control?"
Frayn goes on to give an example of a plausible “real life” farce. "You forget your door key, so you climb over the gate. Climbing over the gate causes you to split your trousers. Because you've split your trousers you take cover in the bushes. Because you're hiding in the bushes, a passing policeman demands that you give an account of yourself, and so forth." As this hypothetical person begins to panic, his world begins to spin out of control, causing further panic until this person is trapped in a vicious cycle.
The play within The Walworth Farce may be a farce in the classic sense of the word, using the elements found in Moliere and Shakespeare’s most ribald comedies. With the play as a whole, however, Walsh more directly taps into this sense of fear and panic, bringing the farce’s undercurrents straight to the forefront.
The script this nutty family performs — apparently over and over, day after day — is its violent history in Cork, Ireland, before Dinny fled to London with his two sons on his heels. When this fable isn’t performed to perfection, the old man terrorizes the now-grown lads, and it’s about at the first muff and tantrum that you notice the one door in and out of the terrible flat is triple-locked.
Such is the touch of Irish playwright Enda Walsh, whose “Walworth” is the second leg of the theater’s three-play festival in his honor. Like the first installment, the Druid Theatre Company’s production of “Penelope” (now closed), it’s fueled by ineffective men stuck somewhere, dreaming of greater things. (Women will have their say in “The New Electric Ballroom,” billed as “Walworth’s” “sister” play, beginning this week in Studio’s complex.)
But while “Penelope” appropriated the hot winds of Greek myth and achieved an unexpected poignancy amid its wacky grandeur, the “Walworth” scale — like Walsh’s intensely insular “Bedbound” and “Disco Pigs” before it — is smaller, and its angst is grubbier.
Still, the “Walworth” concept has a low-down flamboyance, and as always with Walsh (and with so many Irish playwrights), the language is action-packed. The play demands the confident, peacocky performances it’s getting here, particularly from a pair of Shakespeare Theatre Company stalwarts, Ted van Griethuysen (a preening, menacing Dinny) and Aubrey Deeker (nimble and explosive as Blake).
Van Griethuysen and Deeker go full-throttle as their characters tear through the old scenarios, acting at a breakneck pace that suggests how reluctant these figures are to look their situation squarely in the face.
As Sean, Alex Morf — the top of his head oddly shaved, giving him a useful resemblance to filmmaker Ron Howard (the Opie effect makes the audience want to protect him) — is perfectly capable of keeping up with the family theatrical ritual, which has sailed beyond drama and farce and well into burlesque.
But Sean has seen the outside, and when a kindly young woman (a delightfully cheerful Azania Dungee) from the local grocery store comes looking for him — well, fewer surprises ensue than you’d hope, even as the play roars to its climax.
The design in director Matt Torney’s production is expertly grubby: The ripped-out drywall gives the men wider spaces for their gross reenactments, and the tacky clothing and wigs often stand for the left-behind relatives being chronicled. It’s not always clear, though, that Torney has full command of the tone.
It’s a vigorous show, a full-on immersion into a warped and delusional world, but now and then you feel some of Walsh’s cackling laughter getting squelched as the cracked play’s sinister quality digs its fingers hard into the farce’s throat.
Pressley is a freelance writer.
‘The Walworth Farce’
Written by Enda Walsh. Directed by Matt Torney. Set design, Debra Booth; lighting design, Michael Giannitti; costumes, Helen Q. Huang; sound design, Martin Desjardins. Through May 1 at Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.
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Aubrey Deeker (Blake) was last seen at The Studio Theatre in The Cripple of Inishmaan. Other area credits include 13 plays at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, and productions at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre, Folger Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Theatre J, Olney Theatre Center, Theater Alliance, Rep Stage, Everyman Theatre, and Potomac Theatre Project. Internationally, he appeared at The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in Love’s Labour’s Lost. New York credits include two Thornton Wilder one-acts at The Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. He has appeared in world-premiere works by David Ives, Ken Ludwig, Naomi Iizuka, David Grimm, and Snu Wilson. Film and television credits include HBO's True Blood, The Wire, Leave No Marine Behind, and The Seer. He is a graduate of The North Carolina School of the Arts.
Azania Dungee (Haley) makes her Studio Theatre debut in The Walworth Farce. Other area credits include My First Time at Rasa Arts Collective; Much Ado About Nothing (U/S Beatrice) at The Folger Theatre; It’s Not Easy Being Green at Journeyman Theatre; as well as various productions with the Discovery Theatre, and a series of staged readings with Theatre Lab at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. She can be seen in the daily program Join the Student Sit-ins at the National Museum of American History. New York credits include productions with Quo Vadimus Theatre, Dreamscape Theatre, and Playwrights Horizons Theatre School. She is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Ted van Griethuysen (Dinny) has appeared at The Studio Theatre in Moonlight, Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Invention of Love, A Number, The Steward of Christendom (Helen Hayes Award), and The Life of Galileo (Helen Hayes Award). He has also performed in London, where he was most recently seen in Tennessee Williams’ Mr. Paradise on the West End. An Affiliated Artist of The Shakespeare Theatre Company, he has appeared in more than fifty productions, including All’s Well That Ends Well (Helen Hayes Award nomination), as Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and as Andrew Undershaft in Major Barbara (Helen Hayes Award). Mr. van Griethysen spent twenty-five years of his career in New York, where he appeared on and Off Broadway, on television, and in regional theatre. In 1968, he and his wife Rebecca Thompson founded the Opposites Company, which believed that the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel has something to say to the theatre.
Alex Morf (Sean) is making his Studio Theatre debut. Other area credits include Cymbeline and The Alchemist at The Shakespeare Theatre Company. New York credits include Women Beware Women at Red Bull Theater and Viva Los Bastarditos (Audience Favorite Award at FringeNYC) at LaMama ETC. Regionally, he has appeared in The Rainmaker and The Government Inspector at the American Conservatory Theater, as well as in multiple productions at California Shakespeare Theater, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Chautauqua Theater Company, The Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Park Square Theatre, and Frank Theatre. Television credits include The Good Wife. He is a graduate of St. Olaf College and The American Conservatory Theater.
Directors and Designers
The Playwright: Enda Walsh
Enda Walsh’s plays have been widely produced and translated into over 20 languages. In his early twenties, Walsh moved to the rough but culturally rich Cork Ireland, where he was one of the first artists involved with the now famous Corcadorca Theatre Company. For this company, he wrote his first adult play, The Ginger Ale Boy (1995). The Corcadorca also premiered Walsh’s break-through play Disco Pigs (1996), which went on to numerous other productions, winning the Best Fringe Production Award of 1996 and the Critic’s Award in 1997 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The following year, Walsh received both a Stewart Parker Award for New Playwrights and the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright. Walsh again swept the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001 with Bedbound (2000). The Walworth Farce garnered a Fringe First Award in 2007 and was quickly followed by the thematically-linked New Electric Ballroom, which won not only a Fringe First Award and the Herald Achangel Award but also The Irish Times’ Best New Play Award in 2008. His most recent play, Penelope (2010), premiered at the Druid Theatre Company before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Walsh has expanded his career into screenwriting, penning not only the film adaptation of Disco Pigs (2001) but also the screenplay for the much-lauded Hunger (2008), which was nominated for Best British Film at the British Academy Film Awards, and received the Best Film Award from the Evening Standard British Film Awards (2009) as well as the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. He is currently working on a wide variety of projects, ranging from a film adaptation for his 2005 play Chatroom to a children’s movie and biography of Dusty Springfield.