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Crackskull Row

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 5, 2016

John Charles McLaughlin and Terry Donnelly
Photo by Michael Bonasio

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!

True. This famous quote is Scottish, not Irish, but it will give you a sense of the atmosphere you will encounter should you decide to enter the dark, dark world of Honor Molloy's cringe-inducing new play, Crackskull Row, opening at the Workshop Theater as part of the Origins 1st Irish Festival.

This is a particularly unpleasant May Eve ghost story the playwright serves up, filled with images of blood and filth and Oedipal obsession that are difficult to shake off upon exiting the theater, even if it is so over the top that we know (or at least sincerely hope) that it is just a mythic nightmarish tale.

If there are mischievous fairies running amok, they are nothing when compared with what escapes from the shattered mind of Masher Moorigan (Terry Donnelly), who sits alone day after day in her dirt and scuz-encrusted hovel somewhere in the slummiest part of Dublin. There she stews in her memories and survives without electricity or water or toilet facilities, living on ancient tea and wormy biscuits. Truly, you'd be wanting to don a hazmat suit before entering the place. (Credit set designer Daniel Geggatt and costumer Siena Zoƫ Allen for leaving no yucky stone unturned.)

Maybe it's good that the actors' thick Irish accents and slang prevent an American audience from picking up all of the details as the story unfolds. But even without the details, things get more and more odious as we travel through Masher's recollections of her marriage to Basher (Colin Lane), a wretched and abusive lout of a man, and of her relationship with her son Rasher (John Charles McLaughlin). She is also joined from time to time by her "daughter," Wee Dolly (Gina Costigan), who periodically crawls out of the fireplace to harangue or to lend a helping hand, such as when she bathes Masher's feet in water that transforms into blood.

There is an explanation for that bloody imagery, as we learn later as the play descends further into the muck of the past. We witness the kind of life Masher led in her younger days (here played by Ms. Costigan), when she went by the name of Dolly, and all she knew of men was sex and rough treatment. There is no line she won't cross, and she behaves toward her teenage son the way she would with any other man. As you might imagine, young Rasher is just as crazed as his parents, so when he commits a violent act that sends him off to prison for three decades, it comes as just another shock in a series of explosive moments that define the lives of this ultra-dysfunctional family. Even at the end of the play, when Rasher (portrayed as his older self by Mr. Lane) returns home after serving his prison time, it seems the old pattern will just pick up where it left off. A lovely mother and child reunion, indeed!

Director Kira Simring (who also is artistic director of The Cell, which has produced the play) and the entire cast have thrown themselves completely into the creep-fest, and it certainly is a polished work from Honor Molloy, a Frederick Loewe Award-winning playwright. Ms. Molloy draws on the same story-telling traditions as Conor McPherson (The Weir, Shining City, The Seafarer, and her play does contain elements of black humor, but she brings a unique blend of hyperrealism and psychological morass that takes Crackskull Row to a whole new level of ickiness.

Crackskull Row
Through September 25
The Workshop Theater Main Stage, 312 West 36th Street
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