the smuggler

November 21, 2019

in Plays

Play (2019)
Written and directed by Ronan Noone

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
at Boston University
949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
November 7-24, 2019

With Billy Meleady (Tim Finnegan)

Billy Meleady as Tim Finnegan in 'the smuggler'

Billy Meleady as Tim Finnegan
in “the smuggler”
Photo: Stratton McCrady
Courtesy of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

A searingly intense, yet comedic, solo Irish-American rant about the experience of trying to make it in America.

Tim Finnegan (Billy Meleady) is struggling. He’s a writer with a bit of success in the past but not enough to sustain him. His wife is on him to get a decent job and he’s having no luck. When, in the course of doing freelance work on a crew, he begins to dabble in netherworldly activities. His odyssey with what ensues gets interesting and complex and becomes filled with the ironies and compromises of a life moving in on the take.

This relatively short solo piece – it comes in at just over an hour – is written in rhyme. Under Billy Meleady’s expert handling, it becomes like an Irish rap. His delivery is exquisite and pitch-perfect and he manages, through the thick and thin of the quite ambulating tale he tells, to keep one’s attention rapt. The performance is surely a tour de force for Meleady.

Ronan Noone’s script, and the direction he gives the production, are certainly to be admired as well. Noone has taken a chance with this poetic form and the result is musical, rhythmic, forward-driving, and engaging. After an hour, I found myself re-entering the world outside with a somewhat habituated ear, and a visceral expectation that all secular dialogue would have this lilt. The performance was clearly infectious.

The result of this Gaelic-tinged rap is to give a mythical aeration to the story, which, on its own terms, is a savagely grim comedy. Involving thievery, deception, and a hilarious battle with a rat in a dark basement, the narrative could easily just be grisly and dark. With the rhyme and the association rhythmic pulsing it carries with it, the story becomes like a long Bob Dylan song, full of pizzazz, energy and bounce, to transport the grittiness with passionate verve.

In the short space of the narrative, one does get a pretty vivid view of the narrator, Tim, his wife, Tina, and a couple of the other cronies and thieves with whom Tim interacts. Like with Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of fleet street who conspires to make meat pies out of his clients, Tim is a kind of pathetically loveable ne’er do well. With the lilt and the tilt of the script, that dark charm emerges and one takes an odd pleasure in reveling in the character’s earthy seediness.

The intimate set by Adam Hawkins at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre draws one right in and sets the stage for this brief and curiously dark comedic drama. Indeed, the daring poetry of this concise tale and the fabulous rendition given by Meleady are very much worth one’s attention.

– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)

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