A Modern Day Parable
The story goes that an Irish king was once saved by a wandering reverend and became a better man for it. How that came to pass forms the crux of Seamus O’Rourke’s latest play, “And Thank You…” which shows many of the hallmarks we've come to admire about O'Rourke's work while also breaking some new ground. Yet with its simple premise lacking a real dramatic hook or narrative thrust, O’Rourke’s one man tale of a belligerent, drunken father and his two sons who run a small shop in a village in rural Ireland takes some time to get going. But it delivers good laughs, smart insights, and the privilege of seeing O’Rourke stretch himself in something of a new direction.
Feeling like a transitional work in the O’Rourke oeuvre, “And Thank You…” takes awhile to find its feet, becoming bogged down in repetition and exposition early on. Knowing from the outset that the king gets saved, it’s less a case of what's going to happen so much as how it all gets there. Yet description isn’t always action, which sees “And Thank You…” often lull at times. For in the absence of anything at stake, it places immense strain on the characters and on the plays repetitive use of language. Yet, as in the world of the play, characters look thin compared to the towering King John. Particularly the crippled brother Martin, who seems to function only to add commentary or context. The Reverend Thaddeus Clancy, who holds it all together, doesn’t quite exude sufficient authority, charisma, or personality to lure you in, which leaves its ending feeling a little underdone. All of which places huge demands on O’Rourke’s impeccable skills as a performer, playing all roles. Undoubtedly O’Rourke will settle even deeper into it as the runs progresses. One would imagine director Charles McGuinness will tighten up in one or two places, particularly during transitions and the overall sense of flow and timing.
It is to O’Rourke’s immense credit that despite its teething pains “And Thank You…” is often made deeply engaging. Indeed, O’Rourke delivers many smart, funny, and perceptive moments of humour and insight, especially John's brilliantly observed defensive outbursts, his lecture on how to run a shop, or Lugs's auctioneering skills. Throughout, O’Rourke’s efforts to address male suicide, and to create a religious framework, add greater depth and more potent metaphors to proceedings, with the whole feeling like a modern day parable of hope.
Seamus O’Rourke could have played safe and delivered another sure fire nostalgia trip down memory lane that sings to the choir. Instead, he’s gone looking to add more dramatic meat to his comedy bones. “And Thank You…” feels like a transitional work in this regard, for it shows O’Rourke feeling out new dramatic ground and getting it right for the most part. Brave, risk taking, with many laughs, “And Thank You…” has much to recommend it.
“And Thank You…” by Seamus O’Rourke, presented by Big Guerrilla Productions, runs at The Viking Theatre until October 27 before going on tour.
For more information, visit The Viking Theatre or SeamusORourke.com