A 'Farce' to Be Reckoned With

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Last summer, Theatre Talk spoke of "the most dazzling production of a new play to come along in years." That play was The Walworth Farce, by Irish dramatist Enda Walsh. And after runs in Edinburgh, London, and New York, the original production has arrived here in Los Angeles where it opened last night as part of UCLA Live's International Theater Festival.

The plot of The Walworth Farce is simple and twisted: a father, named Dinny, emigrates from Ireland to London and brings his two sons with him. There, in a ramshackle apartment, he torments the boys, isolating them from the outside world and every day forcing them to act out a play in their living room, a play that tells the family's history.

Walsh uses this story to create a dynamic stage experience, and director Mikel Murfi keeps the farce moving along at breakneck speed. At times it feels like a Beckett play as interpreted by the members of Monty Python.

But even more is evoked in the play's quieter moments, where The Walworth Farce becomes a meditation on two powerful themes.

The first is that families, all families, require some sort of myth-making to allow their stressed bonds to hold together. More often than not, these myths depart from the truth — and Dinny's desire to act out these myths with his children everyday is a sly way of showing how these narratives are reinforced.

The second theme that The Walworth Farce brilliantly teases out of the story is that theater is ritual. Dinny's desire to stage the farce each day is a wonderful metaphor for the way human beings have an innate craving to see their own story told by other people. Whether it's the Greeks, thousands of years ago, watching the stories of their recent wars in the Theatre of Dionysus; or people today going to see their friend's one-man show, there is a desire to see one's own life as part of something bigger. Theatre is the simplest form of satisfying this and Walsh's play is a reminder that theater and play-acting can be a less refined art, one that's more a human, impulsive reaction to the complexities of life.

But, what really makes The Walworth Farce special is that these ideas don't feel forced by the playwright onto the story. The Walworth Farce is first and foremost lively entertainment -- with dark undertones. (Naturally -- it is Irish after all.) What's more, this production, by the Druid Theatre of Galway, is beautifully rendered. As those who saw the two J.M. Synge plays the troupe brought to UCLA Live last year know, Druid delivers theater that is energetic, well-rehearsed and thoroughly theatrical.

This is the first Enda Walsh play to be produced here in Los Angeles. His The Walworth Farce is the best kind of new work: theater that doesn't just feel written for the stage, but rather a piece that brims with a deep understanding of why human beings feel the need to put themselves on stage -- and why other people feel the need to make the pilgrimage to watch and take part in this ritual.

The final four performances of Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce continue tonight through Sunday at the Freud Playhouse in Westwood.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.