Samuel Beckett meets Steptoe and Son in Seamus O’Rourke’s, “From Under The Bed,” in which rural bachelor brothers, Pat and Eugene McPartland, brace themselves for the trials of their later years living alone on their farm in holy Catholic Leitrim. More innocents abroad than outright idiots, the co-dependent Pat and Eugene are ignorant to many of the ways of the modern world, including the price of televisions, and of how to get a married woman to have sex with you. Yet though both men are well into their sixties, it’s never too late to learn. Witty, wise, and wonderfully whimsical, “From Under The Bed” nostalgically harkens towards a time of innocence. A time when two men sharing a bed was nothing other than two men sharing a bed, when TV ruled the nation, and confirmed bachelors lived alone, and often died alone, on farms all over Ireland. If, ultimately, “From Under The Bed” overstays its welcome, it still delivers a deeply touching and heartfelt production. One centered around two wonderfully engaging performances.
A tale of rural life and the people who live it, filtered through lashings of late 1970's nostalgia, "From Under The Bed” finds O'Rourke, once again, in familiar territory. While the rest of the country is bracing itself for the arrival of Pope John Paul II and his glass Popemobile in 1979, a troubled Pat succumbs to the need for a late night, late-in-life crisis. Unable to sleep, Pat prowls their soot filled house in his best suit, disturbing an astonished Eugene when he calls to his bedroom looking to talk things through. Life, it seems, has been all about times that never quiet happened, and people who either left or went away. Like their parents, both dead by the time the brothers were ten years old. It might be okay to be scared of dying, but what do you do when you discover you're not quite as tired of living as you thought you were? If the mathematically minded Eugene isn’t overly impressed with Pat’s attempt to rage against the dying of the light, it’s probably because he’s worried about the cost of the newly installed electricity. Yet as the older brother by two years, Eugene feels compelled to listen, and in listening eventually learns to speak. As an unclear past is remembered in an unsettled present, the unknown future asks big questions of them both as they try to say all that's been left unsaid. For all they’ve ever had was each other. And if that wasn’t quite everything, might it have been enough? Might it still be enough?
While O’Rourke’s wistful script is awash with meticulously researched period detail, and steeped in his rich lyrical language that captures rural colloquialisms like no one else can, “From Under The Bed” is not without its problems. Dramatically, the odd couple of Pat and Eugene might have simple wants, but their simple tales don’t always generate an overwhelming amount of interest. The result is a strung out narrative built from threading together a series of personal reminiscences and stories, told by two likeable people, spread over a couple of sleepless nights. Like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, they might talk a lot, but too often they never go anywhere really that interesting. As a result, “From Under The Bed” can make some big asks structurally, narratively, and dramatically, as we watch two men in a room talk in circles. With its near two-hour running time, including intermission, “From Under The Bed” overstays its welcome and looses some of its impact as a result. Yet if, “From Under The Bed” risks being little more than a trip down memory lane, it compensates with a huge amount of heart, and gives voice to the hidden plight of those living alone in rural areas, a theme left unspoken for far too long. And also delivers two crowning performances, so good that they might well have you forgiving any and all other shortcomings.
“From Under The Bed” reunites Arthur Riordan and Seamus O’Rourke, both exceptionally impressive in Verdant/Livin' Dred's excellent The Kings of The Kilburn High Road, for a match made in heaven. Riordan is outstanding as the younger brother, Pat, a man down on himself, flipping this way and that, who loves Ironside, running, and getting his clock winded. Seamus O’Rourke is simply sensational as the wild bearded Eugene, a self-confessed hillbilly with a heart bigger than he wants to let on. Together, the chemistry just crackles. Director Bairbre Ní Chaoimh ensures the delightful duo deliver heartfelt and heartrending moments throughout, as well as enough laughs to keep the night memorably entertaining. A simple, yet clever set by Noel Nash, with lighting by Philip McIntyre, ably contextualise the house the brothers inhabit, with O'Rourke's lush and loving descriptions filling out the rest of the landscape.
If “From Under The Bed” deals in obvious metaphors it’s because, like its two endearing characters, it isn’t interested in being smart or clever for smart or clever’s sake. For “From Under The Bed” not only wants to make you think, feel, and, where applicable, remember, it also wants you to be thoroughly entertained. Like the joke that ends with, ‘you probably had to be there to get it, “From Under The Bed” yields so much more if you were there in 1979 to catch all the Kojak, Dallas, Hawaii 5-O, and Brendan Shine references. Yet even if you weren’t, “From Under The Bed” still overflows with genuine warmth and charm. It may not be the most dramatic work you’re ever likely to see, but it’s unquestionably one of the most irresistible, heartfelt, and entertaining.
“From Under The Bed” by Seamus O’Rourke, produced by Big Guerrilla Productions, runs at The Viking Theatre until February 10th
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