Beware of Greeks bearing gifts
A man, wearing a shirt and tie, his suit jacket resting neatly on the back of a chair, stands alone, cradling a beer in a beautiful, dim lit bar. Around him the strains of Sinatra and company caress the air. If the set design and soundtrack for “Hero,” the debut play by writer Ken Rogan, suggest Rat Pack cool, composed sophistication to come – it’s all a Trojan horse. For “Hero” is the exact opposite of cool, composed and sophisticated. Rather it’s loud, brash and aggressive but, alas, never truly dangerous or exciting. A somewhat over the top production of an under-performing script, “Hero” almost sinks before it starts. But thankfully the day is saved by a truly heroic, one man performance by Daithí Mac Suibhne as the less than heroic, Odysseus loving, lad's lad.
A one-man monologue, “Hero” is essentially a boy meets girl story, without the girl ever really turning up. Barely a ghost of a character, the stunning law student Marisa captures the Achilles heart of captain of the lads, Smithy, during a night out drinking after a football match. In a tale high on lowlights and low on highlights, they meet, he falls in love and it all goes to hell as the hero of the football field proves to be a coward in love. In what follows Smithy recounts his adventureless adventure with the same egotistic, self-delusion as the proverbial fisherman exaggerating the one that got away. Marisa, on the other hand, has nothing to say. Probably because Marissa has no voice or genuine agency of her own being, like everything else in his world, a mere projection of Smithy’s unimaginative, self-persecuting unconscious. Something which Smithy can articulate reasonable well, always hitting the target, yet always missing the mark. By the time the end arrives, the question will boy and girl finally be together, or will they forever hold their piece, is asked and answered in several different ways.
Novice playwright, Rogan, a veteran writer having worked consistently in a variety of mediums, is most effective when delivering snappy lines and clever observations. Yet, narratively, especially as a love story, “Hero” doesn’t really deliver. As a male character study of an emotional and intellectual Neanderthal dressed in a suit, passing himself off as an Alpha male, it’s moderately more successful. Ultimately though it’s far too simplistic in its assessment of either Smithy or masculinity to be really effective, never really getting beyond the obvious and recognisable. Director Amilia Stewart’s choice to kick off “Hero” like a greyhound out of the traps also proves problematic. Relentless, it’s pace never eases up, always full speed ahead, with no curves, dips or rises in the road to make the journey more interesting. Ultimately, the whole feels like a Formula One car roaring by without a race to run, driving at full speed through the straight flatness of the Midlands, the scenery never changing, with nothing significant at stake. In the end, “Hero” runs out of fuel without really crossing the finish line, and its wheels unfortunately fall off with an ending, striving for clever or perhaps cryptic, that just comes across as confused.
Designer, Naomi Faughnan, excels with a simple, yet complex set design, which some might argue is overly elaborate, embodying both fragility and finesse, establishing a contrast and context to Smithy’s verbal violence. Indeed, Smithy as a man residing in a perpetual state of self-inflicted crisis, is wonderfully evoked by Daithí Mac Suibhne, who manages to make Smithy’s testosterone fuelled tirades something to be felt as well as listened to. Through unwavering eye contact, Mac Suibhne turns his audience into intimate friends, sharing his self-righteous and self delusional ramblings, as well as his questionable confessions, offering brief glimpses of the man lost behind “the man.”
Yet “Hero” only ever affords glimpses of what fuels this readily recognisable lad’s lad, the centre of his own, male doomed universe. For it never goes deep enough or beyond the obvious, never more so than in its handling of women. Women serve as ciphers or walk on parts in this one-man universe, where even telling them ‘I love you,’ is still all about how it makes the man feel. They are rendered silent. Yet, somehow, Daithí Mac Suibhne ensures it all stays engaging with a sterling performance. A production which strives to be brave, ultimately "Hero" will leave you holding out for a hero for a little while longer.
“Hero” by Ken Rogan, produced by Lakedaemon in association with Theatre Upstairs, runs at Theatre Upstairs until January 28th
For more information, visit Theatre Upstairs