After Luke/When I Was God -- Theater Review

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The screaming arguments of fathers and sons attempting to love each other are familiar sounds in American drama, from O'Neill and Miller to August Wilson. Conal Creedon puts a Gaelic spin on this age-old conflict in two one-acts, "After Luke" and "When I Was God," now at Irish Repertory Theatre.

Although the premises for both plays basically are the same as dozens of other works, from "Death of a Salesman" to "Fences," director Tim Ruddy's production is full of fresh humor and intense conflict. Played on Lex Liang's nearly bare set, actors Michael Mellamphy, Gary Gregg and Colin Lane colorfully enact various roles in this pair of earthy, rough-hewn, poetic scripts. Brian Nason's imaginative lighting design provides the necessary changes of scenery.

"Luke," which references the book in the Bible containing the prodigal-son legend, draws on sibling rivalry as well as generational combat. Half brothers Maneen and Son have been at each other's throats since boyhood -- "Like a bag of cats," comments their father. The faithful, somewhat dull Son has remained with his widowed Dadda in Cork while the younger Maneen sought his fortune in London. Now that local property values have soared, Maneen is back with an eye to selling the place. Naturally, Son doesn't want to give up his home, and the fight over property becomes a duel for Dadda's affection. Each brother believes the other is the favorite, and Dadda is caught between them. "I treated youse differently but in an equal sort of way," he explains. Alternating between monologues and scenes, Gregg and Mellamphy endow Son and Maneen with equal doses of pettiness and tenderness. Lane expresses Dadda's internal conflict with agonizing specificity. You can see he loves both sons but hates the havoc caused when they get together.

"God" is almost as effective as "Luke," except that the staging is static in places and Creedon's poetic repetitions could use cutting. The framework is a soccer match, the last one for a retiring referee who recalls his painful childhood with a brutish father demanding he excel at sports. Much of the play finds Gregg as the father stationary on top of a small platform, with Mellamphy, doubling as the referee and his own mother, scampering about at stage level. Creedon has written some hilarious dialogue -- the father ranting about the importance of winning at all costs and the son fantasizing about taking a trophy -- but too many of the scenes cover the same territory, even employing the same lines. Despite these flaws, "God" is an entertaining two-hander match, and the entire evening at the Irish Repertory is a touching, heartbreaking look at fathers and sons.

Venue: Irish Repertory Theatre, New York (Through Sept. 20)
Cast: Gary Gregg, Colin Lane, Michael Mellamphy
Playwright: Conal Creedon
Director: Tim Ruddy
Set designer: Lex Liang
Costume designer: David Toser
Lighting designer: Brian Nason
Sound designer: Shannon Slaton