Prostitutes in an internment camp, an old woman who eats live mice, a former drug addict now obsessed with horror films, and -- most horrifying of all -- two dozen angry, threatening Chicago taxicab passengers. These are the characters populating the 1998 Dublin Theatre Festival, featuring works from Spain, Italy, and the U.S., as well as homegrown plays at Dublin's Gate, Gaiety, and Abbey Theatres.
Among the most highly-anticipated productions at the Fest are the return of famed Irish performer Niall Toibin to the Gaiety in Jim Nolan's The Salvage Shop , about a father-son reconciliation; and By the Bog of Cats , a tragedy steeped in Greek myth, directed by Patrick Mason. Bog marks an almost unheard of event, by the way: a play by a woman given a production on the Abbey mainstage. Author Marina Carr has already received acclaim for her previous plays, The Mai and Portia Coughlin.
Carr shares with her celebrated countryman Martin McDonagh not only youth and an interest in the ugly side of families; she, too, mixes near-slapstick with brutality, earthy reality with superstition. In its tale of a woman desperate to win back the man she loves and remain on the marshy moor she calls home, By the Bog of Cats finds room for suicide, the murder of a child, arson, near-rape, hints of incest, and a "catwoman" who eats live mice.
That darkness typifies several of the productions on view at this year's Dublin Fest. Seen in New York two seasons ago, Maly Theatre of St. Petersburg (Russia) offers Stars in the Morning Sky , a grim look at prostitutes and other women rounded up and abused in a Russian internment camp. Over at the Olympia Theatre, acclaimed writer-director Steve Berkoff is doing a solo examining Shakespeare's Villains , from Richard III to Macbeth to Coriolanus. Another solo, penned by Daniel Brooks and Daniel MacIvor, and acted by MacIvor, is aptly titled Monster , as it features such characters as an ex-junkie with a horror- flick fetish and a child obsessed with a bloody crime.
In a more darkly humorous vein, the Chicago hit Hellcab offers a bleak hour in the life of a Chi-town cabbie, as each passenger grates on the driver with complaints, threats, drunken demands and half-hearted seductions. Will Kern's free-wheeling script was recently made into a film featuring such guest back-seaters as Gillian Anderson. A somber look at Ireland's "troubles," Amazing, plays, appropriately, at the Peacock Theatre, second stage of the Abbey, which is considered Ireland's national theatre. Michael Harding's drama ends in the suicide of a policeman who's been collaborating against the Rebels, even though his son was killed by a bomb a few years back.
Even puppet theatre takes on a harsh topic at the Dublin Fest. Tinka's New Dress , a Canadian piece created and performed by Ronnie Burkett, deals with the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, director Romeo Castelluci offers a disturbing, multi-media Giulio Cesare.
Not all is darkness, madness and murder, however. A mix of acrobatics and dance fills The Cry of the Chameleon , from director-choreographer Josef Nadj. Visiting the Gaiety with acrobatics and music are "Circus Ethiopia." To much acclaim, the Gate Theatre is world-premiering Brian Friel's adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya . The aforementioned Niall Tobin stars in The Salvage Shop , a "heartwarming drama" about the reconciliation between a conductor father and his musician son.
Also in the Fest is the premiere of the conclusion of Paul Mercier's "Dublin Trilogy," Native City. For those who missed the first two works, all three plays -- Buddleia, Kitchensink and Native City -- are to be played on one marathon day, Oct. 18.
The Fest schedule also includes the Macnas company's inventive take on the life of Vincent Van Gogh, Diamonds in the Soil ; the mystical and mythical Off-Off-Broadway hit 70 Hill Lane , and an Andalusian Opera version of Carmen , featuring a live stallion and a pipe & drum band. After all, a theatre festival can't live on doom and gloom alone.
For general information on the Dublin Theatre Festival call 011-353-1-874-8525.
-- By David Lefkowitz