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  • Chris O'Rourke

Mask Monologues

Rex Ryan in Stephen Jones's Ghost Story. Image by Wen Driftwood 


With Mask Monologues Glass Mask Theatre close out their latest season. In truth it hasn’t been their best, but it’s certainly been their bravest. Hanging in there despite no funding, experimenting with new, if not always entirely successful ways of making theatre, producing three male monologues exploring masculinity. Talk about going against the grain. But as always, there’s a sincere search for something vital in what Glass Mask do. Evident in Mask Monologues, an exploration of masculinity that might not rise above the anecdotal, but begins a much needed conversation. Three tales of broken men unable to live up to the roles society assigns them, seeking redemption without realising the dice were loaded from the start. That if they don’t understand how they’ve been duped, history might well be doomed to repeat itself.

With minimal staging, and with each monologue speaking confessionally to the audience, there’s a sense of attending a Masculinities Anonymous Meeting. But Ghost Story, by Stephen Jones, sees director Ross Gaynor playfully puncture the dilemma with his opening image. A cartoon ghost costume whisked off Rex Ryan beginning proceedings with a playful elbow to the ribs. We’re serious, but this is theatre, so let’s enjoy this tale of a Richard Carver loving widower waiting for a blind date. A widower with a past you might have heard about, made more suspicious by his liking Guinness Zero. Waiting for the beautiful Adele, to whom he may never be able to say I love you. Jones’s sensitive script, more character study than story, tripping along nicely towards its final twist. Ryan delivering a smartly understated performance. Never insistent, never definite, just someone thinking out loud trying to make sense of where they are, how they got there, and what might come next.

Michael Glen Murphy in Eva O'Connor's Her Dad is Old.  Image by Wen Driftwood 

A trait echoed by Michael Glen Murphy in Her Dad is Old  by Eva O’Connor. A tale of an aging Lothario and his upper class daughter trying to reconnect. Murphy, under Ian Toner’s confident direction, successfully negotiating the most demanding of the three pieces, though a little less flailing and interruptions by an unnecessary soundscape wouldn’t hurt. Murphy at his best when you just let him be. Crucially important given O’Connor’s uneven script struggles with character as character and character as narrator. Murphy negotiating two distinct voices and vocabularies rather than one organic whole. His seductive charm and presence, like a warm embrace, bringing forth the latent, paternal undercurrent in O’Connor’s smart script. Whose ending overworks the final moments. Murphy, holding us in the palm of his hands in a moment of utter poignancy, reveals a multi-verse of heartrending humanity. Only for a final, soul crushingly unnecessary line nailing meaning to the ground. Undermining the power of O’Connor’s class conscious script which raises many fascinating questions.

As does the daddy daughter relationship which fuels Her Good Side by Rex Ryan. Dan Monaghan’s Carl, sitting on a park bench with a camera beside a children’s playground causing the occasional shift in the seat as he reveals his self-pitying life story. Ryan’s deceptively smart tale of a wannabe, never was, never gonna-be film maker addicted to addiction. Drugs, drink, seeking the perfect shot, Carl zones out of the real world looking for he could not tell you what. His ex-wife Claire, and his daughter Sophia long suffering victims of his victimhood. Monaghan’s masterful performance proving irresistible as a man whose delusions mask, then mangle, his inert goodness trying to manifest but not knowing how. Loving his daughter, who is his art. Not understanding that what she needed was a father. Resolution lying in a bittersweet end where hope, as in all the other monologues, looks thin on the ground.

Dan Monaghan in Her Good Side by Rex Ryan. Image by Wen Driftwood 

Like Clare Keegan’s short stories, there is a wealth hidden beneath the ordinariness of these three distinct, yet interconnected vignettes. Addressing questions no one else seems to be asking. You don’t have to love Glass Mask, and God knows I’ve had my fair share of issues, but you can’t deny they are the only venue doing what they do. Yes, it’s theatre in a bistro, and the demands of the latter might annoy some. But the smoked almonds are to die for so there’s that. Either way, Glass Mask continue to experiment, succeed, fail, then try again. Give space to new voices and new works by old voices. Produce works we might not otherwise have seen. Elevate bistro theatre into a distinct pleasure. Did I mention the smoked almonds? If for no other reason than they’re the only one doing what they do, Glass Mask deserve support. On the evidence of Mask Monologues alone, they’ve earned it.

Roll on next season.

Mask Monologues runs at Glass Mask Theatre until June 22.

For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre


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