Artists like Susan Schulman and performance artist Penny Arcade have argued vehemently against the gentrification of New York City, especially their beloved East Village. A process of cleaning up those dangerous spaces where sex, art, and artists flourished, gentrification favours a homogenised conformity in which living, art, and the possibility of something dangerous are rendered bland and safe. Yet gentrification not only affects cities, it also affects minds. And, in the case of Gary Duggan’s latest work “Stop/Over,” plays. It’s into this gentrified New York City that “Stop/Over” drops two former college friends, with more than a passing attraction, looking to catch up for one night in the Big Apple. Steeped in memories, hopes, possibility, and attraction, “Stop/Over” sees two girls take off on a drug and alcohol fulled journey. A journey that quickly becomes one hell of a long night.
Things get off to an intriguing enough start. A clever use of jazz standards played live in a piano bar, like show tunes being belted out at Marie’s Crisis early on a quieter night, allows the audience to settle into the New York vibe. The bar device also allows F, played by Siobhán Callahan, and M, played by Ashleigh Dorrell, to find each other again across a crowded room. Just before everyone takes off into Jack Scullion’s minimalist promenade design.
Yet the jazz bar ambience soon gives way to a geography lesson as “Stop/Over” starts its guided tour of gentrified New York. Long conversations as the girls travel on the subway towards M’s apartment on Avenue A, or off to Greenwich Village, or Central Park, sees M constantly name dropping with obvious gusto amidst layers of cliched descriptions and overwrought language. As a result New York isn’t evoked with any visceral immediacy so much as referenced. Like looking at it on a subway map, showing all the right names and places, but giving no real feel of the actual city.
As the girls catch up over champagne, or voyeur in an S&M club, their previous attraction is revealed to be lying just beneath the surface. When M’s jealousy rises at a nightclub were F flirts and scores some cocaine, something's got to give. Yet still they talk to avoid talking. And so it goes until the lines between fantasy and reality blur and break down. Between who you are and who you, and the other, think you are. But will they both rise to face that challenge? Or will they both walk away again with just another memory of another one night stand and call it special?
Given its basic, “will they/won’t they” premise, Duggan’s script takes an awful long and laborious route to get there, with very little happening as the girls wade through reams of heavy handed exposition and description. If their alternating delivery is sometimes intriguing, it ultimately backfires by virtue of a third wheel. For “Stop/Over” might purport to be a two hander, but so overwrought is Duggan’s language he’s practically a third presence on stage. So much so that, at times, it can feel as if Callaghan and Dorrell are merely taking turns talking in the same voice: Duggan’s.
Duggan’s authorial presence dragging things down and imposing itself on performances is something director Nicola Murphy struggles to negotiate. Never more so than during the club scene which talks a lot of high-energy but physically delivers little. Which is a shame, for Murphy has some serious talent to bring to the table, shown during an exquisite sequence involving a lace curtain which displayed touches of beauty and brilliance. While Ashleigh Dorrell as the insecure and frustrated, plain-Jane M delivers a solid performance, you frequently feel her straining to escape the verbal straight jacket she’s wrapped tightly in. Finding greater flexibility somehow is an astonishingly brilliant Siobhán Callaghan who is utterly mesmerising, with the chemistry between Dorrell and Callaghan proving irresistible, even if the twists and turns at the end border on the confusing.
New Yorkers will tell you that the real New York is not one simple thing. In “Stop/Over” Duggan’s gentrified geography lesson manages to reduce it to the tourist fantasy. And its love story into a not very interesting fantasy also. If there’s an attempt at a tension between fantasy and reality, “Stop/Over” lands firmly on the side of the fantasised, gentrifying the human experience in the process. Thankfully performances by Dorrell and Callaghan, with some smart direction by Murphy in places, elevate “Stop/Over” into something heartfelt and engaging.
“Stop/Over” by Gary Duggan, presented by On The Quays, runs at The Chocolate Factory as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2018 until September 23
For more information, visit at The Chocolate Factory or Dublin Fringe Festival 2018