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If you’ve never heard of the Irishman who tilled his field with his teeth—he was that competitive, he was, and he’d already worn off his arms and legs with work—then Trad, an affectionate celebration-cum-sendup of traditions folkloric and dramaturgical alike, is the tall tale for you. If I tell you it’s a newish play, and I tell you it’s all more or less as quirky as that one anecdote, need I tell you that it’s coming your way courtesy of Solas Nua?
Two ancient gents—one (Michael John Casey) is celebrating his 100th birthday, and the other (Chris Davenport) is his somewhat older Da—embark, after a certain amount of suspense about whether Da has died in his sleep, on an epic quest that eventually takes them down the hill, through the graveyard, along the shore, and all the way to the other side of the village to find the family’s last, long-lost male heir.
The play’s every bit as fond of the narrative detour as that last paragraph; its string of slight but charming yarns seem designed at least in part to evoke (and to poke mild, affectionate fun at) the Irish way with bluster, with competitiveness, and with native pride. But there’s something real at its heart, a lyricism and a sense of regret that old ways of connecting, and of remembering, might be fading as a newer, worldlier Ireland asserts itself.
I’d be curious to see if Trad might seem a little richer with actual elderly actors in its three roles. (Stephanie Roswell plays a priest, a village matron, and a memory, not necessarily in that order.) Casey and Davenport do well enough by the comedy, and Davenport in particular makes a gorgeous thing out of one twilit moment that takes place on the border of waking and dreaming, but with thirtysomething actors anchoring the play, it feels more like a literary-minded lark (playwright Mark Doherty owes the Beckett estate a debt of thanks, if not actual royalties) than the profound meditation on identity that Linda Murray argues for in her director’s note.
Still, Doherty’s spiky, circular comedy has a crisp wit and a certain fragile charm, and Murray’s staging has a winsome way, especially with moonlight and music—which, I hasten to add, is performed live, by an ensemble whose stories are entertaining and implausible enough to make a Solas Nua play all their own.