Ballyturk is darkly funny

Tadhg Murphy and Mikel Murfi in "Ballyturk." ©Teddy Wolff


How it’s New York: St Ann’s Warehouse, in Dumbo (a section of Brooklyn) consistently is one of the edgiest NY Theatres.
How it’s Irish: Enda Walsh and most of the cast and design crew are Irish.

“Ballyturk” plays at St. Ann’s Warehouse through Jan. 28

It’s always a magical experience to head under the Brooklyn Bridge and tread those cobblestone streets to get to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. But add Enda Walsh’s work to the stage and it truly becomes a night to remember.

The brilliance of some art is that it leaves a myriad of imprints on its audience. I overheard a variety of interpretations of the play as we left the theater on Saturday night, none of which bore any resemblance to my own and all of which were different. Listening to an interview with Walsh and Susan Feldman the artistic director of St. Ann’s Warehouse subsequently, Walsh confirmed that it was in fact his intention for the audience to make it their own.

For me “Ballyturk” is part farce, part human tragedy and part  psychological exploration. A pretty good trifecta for your buck.

I first saw Walsh’s work in Galway in 2006. “The Walworth Farce” – not too dissimilar to “Ballyturk” in many facets – opened there at the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF). Walsh considers Galway people his core audience he relayed in the interview, which was moderated by with GIAF Artistic Director, Paul Fahy. Walsh feels they are more comfortable with the surreal than other audiences. I agree – a bit of magic and mystery is never too far away from Galwegian psyche.

Mikel Murfi and Tadgh Murphy in “Ballyturk.” ©Teddy Wolff

“Ballyturk” opens with the actors Mikel Murfi, 1 and Tadgh Murphy, 2, manically going through their daily routines of waking, showering, dressing and eating, all at a frenetic pace. Their lives are lived in one room we quickly learn, in which all their basic physical needs are met. There is exercise equipment, cereal boxes, a record player, a shower, a cuckoo clock. For entertainment (or sanity), they enact a set of well known routines like a vaudeville duet – only to 80’s music. We soon learn that this is their enclosed world. Are they brothers? Lovers? Kidnapper and captive? The audience gets to decide.

The world outside is represented as an Irish village they possibly once lived in.

Murphy and Murfi masterfully recreate scenes by acting out vignettes from the village. Are they remembered or imagined from this ‘”other world.” The characters they play include a bitter, lager and lime swilling shopkeeper, and a malevolent guy who always gets the girl, and represent Walsh’s rapier-like poke at village life and highlight the versatility of Murphy and Murfi.

Are the villagers real or just figments of their imagination? The answer remains unanswered.

Mikel Murfi and Tadhg Murphy in “Ballyturk.” ©Teddy Wolff

We enter Act Two with a wall being ripped from the room, like the effect of the psychological wall breaking down. It marks the arrival of a potential savior or demon in the form of Olwen Fouréré – a powerhouse of an actor – who opens up the outside world to the two boys.

There is a sense that the comfort to their repeated patterns, no matter how futile and potentially potent they are, are more attractive than anything on the outside. Set (Jamie Vartan), lighting (Adam Silverman) and sound (Helen Atkinson) exemplify this terrifically with the an air of comfort that is regained when the wall goes back up for Act Three. Sound effects are particularly powerful as the wall breaks down: the vibration is so powerful, I felt as if my seat was vibrating. Despite the chaos of the room, with presses in places no one can reach, and stuff abounding, is like a soft, deep couch in comparison to the barrenness and coldness of the outside world.

Olwen Fouéré in “Ballyturk.” ©Teddy Wolff

The writing is superb, but for two lengthy monologues that could do with some merciless chopping.

Walsh’s ideas are very dark. They are also very funny. He said a lot of his ideas come from his family – he grew up the youngest of six children in Rathmines in Dublin. Noone comes out unscathed from being the youngest of six children – trust the writer! He mentions the Ryan Report, a report conducted by the Irish government on child abuse in the country, as reference material for this work too. As I said, it’s a dark play, but it’s ability to marry that darkness with physical and verbal comedy is what makes this writer/director a multi-award winner.

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