Fearlessly physical young actors, canny, craft-wise old veterans, witty playwrights, bracing writing, vivid images, crystal-clear ideas—these are a few of a critic’s favorite things, and, man, was it a good week for ’em. Between Saturday and Monday, I took in the U.S. premiere of a profanely kinetic, brutally poetic portrait of two Ulster layabouts (at Solas Nua, naturally) and the D.C. debut of a cracklingly sarcastic, effortlessly intellectual off-Broadway drama about a 17th-century philosopher caught between the powers that be and the power of his own ideas (at Theater J). And I’m pleased to report I had a great time at both.
For different reasons, of course. At Solas Nua, what’s appetizing is Rosemary Jenkinson’s ripe, anarchic language—a mad, stream-of-consciousness chronicle of a day in the life and death of Johnny Meister & the Stitch’s title characters—the precise, athletically explosive performance of Chris Dinolfo in the first of the evening’s twinned monologues, and the less hectic but equally fascinating portrait Rex Daugherty paints of Stitch in the second half. Pretty much everything about Des Kennedy’s tightly focused production is striking, really—even Marianne Meadows’ blinding, fluorescent-fueled lighting design.
It’s an unpretty picture Jenkinson frames, of a youth culture built mostly around boredom and binge drinking and random beat-downs delivered to passersby “just for the rush.” It’s that sensation-seeking that defines the Johnny Meister’s days and nights, and that has brought him, when the show kicks off, to an awkward pass: Stitch, so called because an earlier run-in with the Johnny Meister left him with a prize scar on his temple, is reportedly looking to kill his former friend, all for the sake of a pool-hall joke that cost him face in front of the ladies.
Or is he? Once Dinolfo’s Johnny has run through his incident-packed, character-pocked tick-tock of a day in which nothing and everything happens (random fistfights! drunken road trips going nowhere fast! wildly ill-advised sex!), the story resets with the beep of Stitch’s alarm, and we learn that maybe the reports of his aggression have been exaggerated, that maybe he’s running as wary and scared as Johnny is. And with reason: The squabble with Johnny aside, he’s due to report to the local crime syndicate tomorrow to face a kneecapping. And as the somewhat more self-aware, marginally more philosophical Stitch begins to awaken to the possibility that he and Johnny are feuding for no real reason, the shadow of true tragedy looms over Jenkinson’s play: In the post-Troubles Ireland her tracksuited dead-end kids inhabit, a whole new generation of troubles—less easy to define, maybe, but no less pernicious—have taken root.