Rory & the Devil

ensemble theatre · by david mcelwee · Ages 13+ · United States of America

world premiere
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Review by ROB ANGELL

June 22, 2019 certified reviewer

What I liked

Pretty much everything. The space is intimate, so one of the actors ushers you in, transforming the space, set, props, and even the actors through suggestion and imagination. We feel as if we’re peeking into this small Donegal pub, whisked away back to the 1970s, watching as events play out in real time. The dry, hardy, humor of the Irish protagonists gives way over the course of the runtime to a drama with the intensity of Martin McDonagh’s early work. We join this family of blood and heart, feeling their pain, toasting their triumphs (with “Sláinte!”, never “Cheers!”). Of particular note is John Harnagel’s transportive and bombastic retelling of the death of Lord Lifford in 1878. It ties together the threads of the people on stage, questioning whether we can escape the path our history sets us on or if we’re predestined to self-fulfill the prophecies we devise for ourselves.

I also want to take a moment to appreciate the casting choices. Casting was clearly made to fit the best actors for the roles, not to pick the people who looked the most “Irish.” If we can suspend our disbelief about the fact that we aren’t actually in a Donegal pub during the Troubles, it shouldn’t be that difficult to imagine that Mary’s hair is black or Paddy’s hair is red. Every actor did such a good job drawing us in and making this feel real and dangerous. I wouldn’t have wanted any of them to change.

What I didn't like

There was a plot early on that intrigued me and was never spoken of again… a bit of a “Chekhov’s basement” situation, if you will. The play kept focus on its main story so I’m not bemoaning the loss too much. If anything, it’s a sign that our playwright, actors, and directors have brought us into this world so fully that many questions and mysteries exist beyond the scope of the play.

My overall impression

I was completely blown away. This play was phenomenal.

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