by Bea Bosco
Dinny: A day of twists and turns and ducks and dives and terrible shocks. A story to be retold, no doubt, and cast in lore. For what are we...if we're not our stories?
Blake: We're the lost and the lonely.
We know who we are through the stories we tell. Whether through personal narratives gathered in therapy, history told by the victors, or the mythology of a culture, humans make sense of the world through stories. That may help explain why farce, with its improbable situations, physical indignities and inverted values, has traditionally been deemed appropriate only for the most superficial of human follies. Unlike comedy, which seeks to redress moral dilemmas through humor, farce provokes only laughter. The characters, who are types rather than fully dimensional, are spared the consequences of their own foolishness and overwrought emotions.
Farce, according to playwright Enda Walsh, is a genre wholly foreign to the Irish. The modern Irish theatrical tradition was intentionally shaped with the formation, in the 1890s, of the Irish Literary Society. From the Abbey Theatre emerged a unified, language-driven style with a focus on working-class or peasant characters, ineffectual men and strong women, presented realistically, often in highly detailed domestic settings. Sean O'Casey and John Millington Synge represent the best of this tradition, and gave Ireland an internationally recognized theatrical idiom. Some of the greatest innovators of the English-language theater were from Ireland—Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett.
Among Ireland's most successful and widely produced contemporary playwrights, Walsh has written extensively for the stage, radio and film. Born in 1967 in Dublin and currently residing in London, his highly theatrical plays include his 1996 breakthrough Disco Pigs, Bedbound, Small Things, Chatroom, and New Electric Ballroom. The Walworth Farce was commissioned by Galway's Druid Theatre Company, which was established in 1975 as the first professional Irish theater outside of Dublin. The company has been a leader in the development of Irish theater and has established an international reputation for both classic and new work, with productions such as DruidSynge, their critically acclaimed presentation of all six Synge plays on the same day. The Druid premiered Martin McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, beginning with McDonagh's debut work The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which transferred to Broadway and won four Tony Awards.
A man in a dress, a frying pan to the head, a large salami hidden in an oven—are all hallmarks of farce. Yet The Walworth Farce provokes more than laughter. Walsh situates his characters in exile from their homeland, evoking, like many of his predecessors, social consciousness and nostalgia for Ireland. But his play goes beyond the naturalistic barroom and hearth plays. With his delight in language, subversive humor and theatricality, Walsh creates an abstracted critique of national clichés. The stories he tells are humorous as well as visceral, tender and dark.