TRAD is an Irish Feast of Words

09Sep10

At Gloucester Stage Company through September 12
In the opening scene of TRAD, 100 year-old Thomas shuffles over to wake his improbably ancient father who is sleeping on a wooden cot. That absurd premise sets the tone for Mark Doherty’s hilarious fable set in the Irish countryside.

TRAD is also a grand way for Gloucester Stage Company to end its 2010 season.

There’s a bit of Samuel Beckett in TRAD, but the play pays homage to a number of great Irish writers, if you know what to look for. TRAD is short for “tradition,” and the importance of tradition and legacy are major themes of the play, just as they are key elements of Irish culture.

Both Thomas (played by Colin Hamell) and his father (Billy Meleady) have physical infirmities befitting their advanced years. Hundred year-old Thomas has only one good arm and shuffles along bent forward at an almost 90 degree angle. His considerably older father has a wooden leg and his gait has also seen better days.

“Da” as Thomas calls his father in the Irish way, is always spouting tradition to his long suffering son. In fact, Da has been badgering his son daily about the fact that the family line ends with Thomas, who never married. When Thomas can’t take it anymore and admits that he fathered a child in a one-night-stand 70 years ago, Da insists that they embark on a road trip to find the long lost heir.

“There’s a child belongin’ to me and I’ve never met him!” Da exclaims.

The only problem is that they don’t know what name the child was given and Thomas didn’t even get the last name of the girl he had the fling with. He thinks her first name was Mary. He’s not even 100 percent sure that the child was a boy.

Undeterred by these obstacles, the frail old codgers hit the road in search of their descendant. First stop is the cemetery where Da hopes to narrow the field by the process of elimination. Here they encounter Sal (Nancy E. Carroll) an old woman who suggests that they see the local priest who would have a record of everyone baptized 70 years ago.

They trudge along to the rectory where the priest (also played by Carroll) invites them in, glad for someone to share “a taste” with.

TRAD is a feast of brilliant Irish banter and wit as it both skewers and pays homage to Irish stereotypes and tall tales. There’s the old priest with a taste for whiskey, and the legend of the farmer who lost so many body parts that he had to plow his fields with his tooth.

Playwright Mark Doherty was once a stand up comedian and the repartee never lets up.

“Do we have a plan, Da?” Thomas asks his father as they begin their search.

“My plan,” the ancient Da replies, “is to draw in air at the end of this sentence.”

Award-winning Director Carmel O’Reilly is founder and Artistic Director of the Sugan Theatre Company in Boston. Here she has cast two fine Irish actors in Hamell and Meleady along with Elliot Norton Award-winning Carroll.

TRAD is about the burden of history and the passing along of the stories, even the absurd ones. It’s also about the words that make up those stories, and TRAD has a musicality about it and turns language on its head with its fondness for subtle puns and wordplay.

TRAD is steeped in Irish culture, but you don’t have to be Irish to appreciate it. Every culture has its own traditions worth preserving along with foibles worthy of poking fun at.

The minimal set forces everyone in the audience to put his own imagination to work. When turned on its side, the wooden cot that Da sleeps on becomes a fence in a field. Other that that, the set features only a couple of benches and a sloped riser to simulate a hill. Anything more would have distracted from the dialog and the words, which is what TRAD is all about.

TRAD is great fun but it will make you work, and the Irish brogues have a way of forcing you to pay attention to every word. But it’s well-worth the effort, for the reward is rich.

TRAD runs through September 12, 2010 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St. Gloucester MA. For show times and tickets visit the Gloucester Stage Company web site or phone 978-281-4433.

[TRAD, by Mark Doherty. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. Set Design, J. Michael Griggs. Costume Design, Rachel Padula Shufelt. Lighting Design, John Malinowski. Production Stage Manager Jayscott Crosley. Featuring Nancy E. Carroll, Colin Hamell and Billy Meleady.]

Photos by Gary Ng.

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