Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Hugh Pugh (Peter Maloney) neither bathes nor opens his mail on any regular basis. He has not bathed in four years and his mail has been abandoned under the letter box “this decades.” Hugh succumbs to a bubble bath in anticipation of the visit from his ninety-one year old alcoholic brother. Hugh is ninety and is a small-time farmer living alone up a mountain in County Cavan Ireland. Things are going well for Hugh and his ablution – despite the pending visit – until his dog Jessie’s loud barking signals the arrival of an unexpected guest. The interaction between Hugh and this guest is the intriguing and often hysterical story line of John McManus’ “The Quare Land” which is part of the current Irish Repertory Theatre Season and is also part of the 1st Irish Festival.
The unexpected guest is building contractor Robert McNulty (Rufus Collins) who has been trying to reach out to Hugh through the snail mail piling up under Hugh’s letter box. When one is 90 and has not bathed in four years and receives a visitor other than one’s brother, there is only one strategy that works: stall long enough to scope out the guy and decide whether to trust him or not. And stall Hugh does and regales Robert with story after story about Hugh’s adventures and lovers until Robert discloses the reason for his visit and exposes his easily aroused temper. Once Hugh knows how to handle Robert, the fun of John McManus’ play begins – all taking place in Hugh’s bathroom with Hugh in the tub throughout: rubber pig with squeaker and bubbles included.
The exchange between Hugh and Robert is so engaging and authentic it would be a shame to say much about the content of the extended conversation except that the playwright skillfully switches the “control” of the conversation back and forth between the characters and keeps the audience guessing who will “overcome” throughout. Robert wants to purchase land Hugh owns so he can complete his eighteen-hole golf course next to his upscale hotel catering to vacationing Brits. This is land Hugh does not even know he owns but discovers it was a gift from his friend Artie who stole money (and his favourite flat cap) from Hugh, felt guilty, and deeded Hugh the piece of land in Ballinamore in County Leitrim to Hugh.
Once Hugh knows how badly Robert wants his “great” land, Hugh keeps upping the price and the demands he makes on Roberts to seal the deal are outrageous and very funny. At first Hugh considers Robert to be greedy: “And I have all the time going. For I’m not a greedy haveral like you are, for I’m contented with me few cows and me pension. I can’t stand under your generations attachment to worldly goods. Big jeeps and huge houses and foreign trips and fake tits. You don’t own the things you buy, the things you buy end up owning you. Stand under?” But then, the tables turn and Hugh becomes greedy. All of this banter leads up to a surprise ending as Hugh’s brother pulls up outside the house.
Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s steady and thoughtful direction, Peter Maloney and Rufus Collins make Laurel and Hardy look like amateurs with a comedic repartee that keeps the audience in stitches – until the surprise ending changes the mood drastically. Their banter is fast-paced and physical and the epitome of good timing. Charlie Corcoran’s set is compact and appropriately whimsical and costumes by David Toser and lighting by Michael Gottlieb equally appropriate and supportive of the action.