|John Duddy and Laoisa Sexton in For Love.|
There are countless Irish plays about the national question. There are drama libraries stacked with Irish plays about emigration and return.
There are seemingly endless numbers of Irish plays that present quaint rustics being cruel to each other. We even have a new body of supernatural Irish tales.
But there are very few Irish plays that contemplate love and sex, their temptations and complications, that that are written by a woman or with a woman’s perspective, for some reason.
It’s a curious thing. It’s not as if Irish women don’t have opinions on the matter.
Take Irish actress and playwright Laoisa Sexton. It’s safe to assume the actress got so tired waiting for Irish roles she could strongly identify with that she decided to write them herself. Generations of Irish actresses have been forced to do likewise, in the process often creating some of the best theater companies in the nation.
But Sexton didn’t set out to start a revolution. She just wanted to encounter roles she could identify with and believe in.
In For Love
, her new play opening at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York this week, Sexton has done something so simple and yet revolutionary that you can’t fail to appreciate it -- she has fashioned living and breathing Irish women from the experience of being one herself.
Sounds straightforward in theory, but it’s really not. Plays from Ireland that don’t feature Aran Island dwelling yokels who do be expressing themselves in the heighted parlance of the whest aren’t as generally popular as plays that do.
It turns out that the world, or at least American theater-going audiences, believe it’s still 1904 in Ireland and that indoor plumbing is a terrible novelty altogether, begod.
If you don’t live like this, if you prefer to go shopping and are interested in fashion and music and contemporary art say, you’re not going to find much among contemporary Irish playwrights to latch on to.
That’s what makes For Love
such a singular play. It leaps to life from the lived experience of contemporary Dublin women, and it speaks in their vernacular about the issues that actually absorb them.
It will be interesting to see what New York audiences (and critics) make of Sexton’s hilarious and absorbing drama. I suspect they’ll be surprised by its modernity, and probably challenged by it to.
The thing about contemporary Irish drama written by men is that, like Irish men themselves, they tend to do most of the thinking for you.
In contrast, Sexton seems more interested in exploring the unintended consequences of actions that reveal character. Her women are brittle, smart, hard-bitten and ready to laugh or cry in a heartbeat.
These women are romantic realists, aware of their contradictions and reveling in them. They’re not the enskied and sainted paragons of Irish nationalist drama, they’re not the terrifying harridans of Irish rural farce, they’re living breathing Dublin women whose wit and wisdom could cut the heels of you. And they want a drink and a dance, now.
The questions For Love
asks are as old as the world. Is there more than a one night stand in Val’s future? Can the right dress take Tina’s mind off the wrong man? Is Bee falling herself falling for a married man that feeds her lines and he reels her in on one?For Love
does something else that the boys forget to include in their dramas. It explores female friendship, the tensions, petty jealousies and the immense affection that guide them in a way that feels so fresh you’ll realize how much they’ve been missing in Irish drama.
What would you do for love, the play asks? The answer, of course, is just about anything.
That’s a perspective that isn’t clouded by the national question or the tensions of modernism versus the parochial or any of that navel gazing malarkey. These girls just wanna have fun, and when the fun is over, they want someone to come home to.
They want what we all want. It’s just amazing to see that awareness being presented in a modern Irish play.
The Irish Repertory Theatre, and 1st Irish Theatre Festival where the play originally debuted, are both to be thanked for taking a chance on a drama that isn’t at all typical of the work coming out of Ireland. They are also to be commended for knowing it deserves to be seen.
For tickets to For Love