The sleepy Irish town of Inish suddenly bursts with the grotesque. Where hotel clerks and housewives once salivated at the thought of a scandal for the simple fact that they had never witnessed one, the streets are rampaged with suicide pacts, attempted murder and the unearthing of old wounds.
The catalyst for this sea change is the theater. Not a magic theater or a play rooted in dark scriptures—just the idea of theater itself. This is the guiding philosophy behind Lennox Robinson’s Is Life Worth Living?
Constance Constantia and Hector De La Mare have been brought to Inish by John Twohig, owner of a hotel as well as the town’s pavilion, where he has asked the two actors to perform. In an effort to infuse Inish with culture, John has signed a contract with the De La Mare Repertory Company to put on deep, thoughtful and often morose plays through the end of the summer. A sampling of the pair’s lineup: Leo Tolstoy’s The Power of Darkness, ultimately about the slaughter of a baby in a cellar; A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, in which a happy marriage unravels with blackmail and betrayal; and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, wherein a refusal to sell a family farm leads to lost love and forsaken opportunity. It’s an uplifting run.
The townspeople are enamored of the plays, and for Constance and Hector’s first couple of weeks performing, the pavilion is packed. Soon after the actors arrive, however, residents start behaving strangely. Helena, the maid at John’s hotel, is overcome with grief at the remembrance of a lost child. A man tries to drown himself in the river. A couple attempts death by noxious fumes. One wife hurtles a lamp at her husband’s head, while another woman contemplates killing a relative with rat poison.
Amid the chaos, a few short storylines unfold. John’s son, Eddie, is in love with businesswoman Christine Lambert. He’s proposed nearly a dozen times, and she continues to refuse him. Then there’s the plight of John’s sister (and hotel manager), Lizzie. She’s worried she’ll never marry and feels slighted by a past love. Constance and Hector, meanwhile, reveal some of their insecurities as actors, as they dream of both fame and a place they can call home.
Is Life Worth Living? never pierces the flesh of anything substantial. Characters are likable, and occasionally the audience is let in on more than one of their dimensions. But really, like chips for salsa or french fries for really excellent barbecue sauce, the characters are simply a vehicle for feeding viewers the author’s grand concept. Apparently, that concept is that the power of theater whittles away at the blissfully ignorant veneer of contentment. While it may uncover some deeper truth, it’s a reality people are better off not knowing. This is, of course, all tongue-in-cheek, but while it’s an amusing enough notion, it’s not genuinely funny.
Still, The Adobe Theater has managed to turn a lackluster script into an entertaining performance. The cast is solid, and although the characters aren’t allowed much depth, the actors have managed to instill real personality into their portrayals. Ned Record’s efforts are especially fruitful. Playing Hector De La Mare with grandiosity and vulnerability, Record is able to clearly illustrate his character and his character’s character. Plus, the guy’s hilarious.
There isn’t a sore thumb in the bunch. Other noteworthy performances include Philip J. Shortell, who is a natural and charming John Twohig; Linda Williams, who seems to embody the flighty but likable Lizzie Twohig; Mathew Van Wettering, who as Michael the Boots is supremely charismatic; Heather Lovick-Tolley, who is fierce as John’s wife, Annie Twohig; and Isaac Christie, who plays the lovelorn Eddie Twohig and exudes an earnestness that would warm the cockles of just about any theatergoer’s heart. Joni L. Lloyd can be too self-aware as Constance Constantia, with movements that are overly exaggerated, but since her character is euphemistically flamboyant, it kind of works. And she still has moments that feel easy and graceful.
Is Life Worth Living? isn’t the greatest play. But Adobe has sharpened it with clever actors, good direction and a welcome dose of whimsy.