- Chris O'Rourke
Our Shaman of Dublin 1
Rex Ryan in Our Shaman of Dublin One. Image uncredited
In a Nicholas Cage movie Cage can step from a plane cradling a machine-gun with utter conviction. Pull the trigger and riddle twenty-seven soldiers dead. Exploding two oil tankers, three jeeps, while killing a sniper in a tower all at the same time. In reality, machine-gun fire tends to fly in every direction but the target, with deaths more likely arising from friendly fire. Such is the case with Rex Ryan's second play Our Shaman of Dublin 1, whose rapid fire approach shoots itself in the foot. Looking a lot like Cage's career, with its momentary highs, suspect lows, and a lot of lunacy in between. Along with an overbearing sense that you haven't seen the best yet.
Taking off like a greyhound, Ryan's tale gathers speed and never stops running. A drunk psychologist, Vinnie, is being robbed, sort of, by high octane, balaclava wearing Darragh. Between talk of movies and drugs, mothers and sons, an elbows and knees narrative eventually emerges. There's a mother and troubled son who watch Men in Black together. There's Con Air, argued to be one of the most underrated movies of all time, becoming a bonding tool for desperate men and the pretext for a drinking game. There's money owed, soldiers believing they're being systematically drugged, a man dying while listening to a Dear John phone message, questionable paternity disputes, possible PTSD and quite a lot of badly timed phone calls. As if The Odd Couple were Steinbeck's Lenny and George, each man becomes the other's twisted responsibility as they work towards a kind of redemption. Their journey less a rollercoaster of thrills and dips so much as a bullet train. One that takes off having left some important luggage on the platform. Its speed losing its impressiveness as it settles into a steady sameness. The unchanging landscape flying frenetically past.
Structurally, its rata-tat, almost stream of consciousness format loops and repeats on itself, expanding its Tarantino framed conversations with Pinteresque economy in its better moments. In its worse it tends to rabbit on ineffectually, with not enough to support genuine engagement or something more metaphorical or abstract, despite some very funny lines. If it aspires to a graphic novel sensibility, it misses its target for its images not being strong enough. Becoming more Don Quixote than Quentin Tarantino, and less Pinter so much as Pollock, Ryan's tale splatters its frayed connections everywhere, hinting of deeper connections via the disturbed mind of Darragh. Like pauses in a monologue, Andy Kelleher's Vinnie crops up to help get things moving, having little agency of his own. Leaving Kelleher with an uphill struggle he doesn't entirely negotiate. Which cramped staging does little to help. Meanwhile, Ryan's Darragh, looking like he was taken out of the oven a little too early, might have benefited from an outside director for Ryan to push against, and give Kelleher more support. Ryan walking a delicate line playing another over the top character living on the edge. True, he plays them extremely well. But by the end similarities risk the question; what else have you got?
To say Ryan has a passion for Glass Mask Theatre is a monumental understatement. Ryan borders on the obsessive compulsive in his unwavering commitment to make this company succeed. Even his enemies, in the unlikely event he were ever to have any, would cheer him on. Yet there's evidence in Our Shaman of Dublin 1 that Ryan is over stretching by writing, directing, co-producing, acting, and being directly or indirectly involved with so many Glass Mask Theatre productions. Necessity can often be the mother of invention, but going to the creative well once too often risks not giving sufficient time to creatively replenish. Of over planting and not letting the creative land lie fallow. Which can turn a vision into a blind spot, or a dust bowl, for failing to see the wood for the trees. And Ryan is too important a talent for that to happen. He might not want to hear it, but a little downtime might better help Glass Mask Theatre reach the big time. Delegate a little more. Short breaks with spa days are good. I can personally recommend some good whiskeys and cigars should he be so inclined. I'd be happy to join him. He's good company. With lots of interesting ideas when it comes to making theatre. Some of which are on display in Our Shaman of Dublin 1, suggesting greater things to come.
Our Shaman of Dublin 1, written and directed by Rex Ryan, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until April 23.
For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre