Kyle Gibson (left) and Michael Dailey star in Tom Murphy’s “Conversations on a Homecoming” at Strawdog Theatre. | Photo by Jon Cole
‘CONVERSATIONS ON A HOMECOMING’
When: Through Sept. 28
Where: Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway
Info: (773) 528-9696; www.strawdog.org
Run time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Updated: August 28, 2013 7:25PM
Strawdog Theatre’s ideally moody production of “Conversations on a Homecoming” — a naturalistic, drink-as-they-go, 1985 drama by Irish playwright Tom Murphy — stirs up the deep disillusionments of four Irishmen who nurtured a slew of dreams during the 1960s but now are facing their failures in a timeworn pub outside Galway.
Murphy’s play is set in the 1970s, a decade after “the death of Camelot” as signaled by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the starry figure these men viewed as their “countryman,” and whose photo still hangs above the bar. The bitterness that comes with all those crushed expectations fills the air as they admit their dreams have turned to dust.
True, the Irish economy is improving, at least for some, and there are signs that tourism is about to become big business even in their part of the country. But all is not well with Tom (Michael Dailey), the writer-turned-teacher who has never quite married his fiance, Peggy (Anita Deely); or with Junior (Jeff Duhigg), the family man who runs his dad’s garage; or with Liam (Ed Porter), the intellectual-turned-businessman. Nor have things turned out as expected for their slightly younger pal, Michael (Adam Soule), the aspiring actor who actually made the leap to America while the rest of them stayed at home.
Michael is now back in Galway, ostensibly to visit his mom. But clearly he is home for good. And it is an uneasy homecoming for all these men — tinged with disappointment, regret, envy and an anger fully sounded after a few too many pints. In addition, though absent, they talk of their pal JJ, who in the old days was their wildly philosophizing “guru,” but who now is a seriously ill alcoholic obviously disabused of his idealism and blarney.
As in the plays of Chekhov and August Wilson, not much actually happens in this play. But director Jonathan Berry once again displays his gift for creating a pitch-perfect ensemble esprit and his fine actors respond with performances that suggest they have bantered with each other for years. And as the drink takes hold, all their passionate, unresolved feelings about the church, politics, women, money, art, poetry and Ireland itself begin to flow, with the barely sustained facades of these men beginning to erupt.
Serving the drinks on Mike Mroch’s atmospheric set (the color of stale ale), is the pub’s elderly landlady (Janice O’Neill). And assisting her is JJ’s fetching young daughter, Anne (Emily Nichelson, a delicate, quietly beguiling beauty in the Audrey Hepburn mode, making a lovely debut). She has her own dreams.