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Cuchullain is the third effort by Belfast playwright Rosemary Jenkinson to make its world premiere at Keegan Theatre since 2010, and it reunites actor Josh Sticklin with director Abigail Isaac—the same duo that staged Jenkinson’s Basra Boy at the Keegan 16 months ago. Where that show had Sticklin playing something like a dozen parts, here he occupies a single character: Nineteen-year-old Aaron is a perpetually high wastrel who lives with his mother. His idea of ambition is to convince the state he’s psychotic (“a ma stabber”) so he’ll qualify for double the living allowance paid to the mentally sound (apparently). That way, he can settle his tab with his dealer before he gets kneecapped, so long as he doesn’t do something dumb like give the money to the 14-year-old girl he’s knocked up. For instance.
Going back at least to Mark O’Rowe’s Disco Pigs, which Solas Nua has staged twice, in recent years D.C. has seen a lot of these miniature, one- and two-person shows about Irish kids running around drinking, tripping, fucking, and fighting, often performed in dense argot. (Keegan’s program contains a one-page glossary.) As in Shakespeare—another playwright whose material can seem to run together—the flow and force of Jenkinson’s language can feel much more significant than the story. For example, in envy of the permissiveness we seem to overlook in artists while condemning in the poor, Aaron observes: “You could be a pedo, but as long as you snag a Booker, you’re grand.”
It’s lively stuff, and Sticklin is an athletic marvel, bounding around the stage and leaping up and down from its sixish-foot secondary platform so often that my knees started to hurt. He even has a bracing fight scene, which isn’t something you expect of a solo show. (The fight choreography is by Kyle Encinas.)
If the material has a nagging sense of overfamiliarity to it, Jenkinson at least tries to change up the setlist with a late reveal—one that doesn’t land with the impact that it should. So what we’re left with is another perfectly honorable, if undistinguished, entry in what’s become a well-populated genre. The fact that it’s performed by a single actor on the same set Keegan is using for its concurrent, and necessarily more expensive, production of the Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening, seems like a shrewd cost-saving move. Whatever is Sticklin is making, he’s earning it and then some.