Seán Doyle, Maeve O’Mahony, Claire O’Reilly
and Ronan Carey in a scene from Boys and Girls
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Sex and love are among the most exhausted subjects in media today. While numerous shows tell stories of young people and their romantic blunders, few manage to say anything new and exciting. However, Boys and Girls, Dylan Coburn Gray’s experimental piece playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of 2014 Origin’s 1st Irish Festival, might be a notable exception. Ushering the Irish spoken word poetry tradition into the American theater scene, this United States premiere production forgoes romantic and glamorized presentations of sex and instead describes the scary, messy, embarrassing truths.
Through a series of intertwining monologues, Boys and Girls follows four young Dubliners before, during and after their respective sexual encounters. Though the characters never interact, their stories weave through one another, forming fascinating juxtapositions. While one of the boys fails to seduce his love interest at a bar, the other laments his passionless, anonymous alley hookup. While one of the girls describes the thrill of a first-time experience, the other wonders if her committed relationship is physically fulfilling. The result is a comprehensive, truthful account of adolescents learning to understand male-female dynamics.
The production comes across the pond straight from a sold-out run at the 2013 Dublin Fringe festival where it earned critical acclaim and the Fishamble New Writing Award. To avoid confusion, the production team provides us with a glossary of Irish terms; however, this is hardly necessary. To writer/director Gray’s credit, the show’s coming-of-age themes translate seamlessly for an American audience. The struggles surrounding young love prove to be universally accessible.
This partially dramatic, partially spoken word piece exists in that nebulous space between theater and poetry. While such works often seem indulgent and static, Gray is acutely aware of the genre’s challenges and employs various strategies to keep Boys and Girls engaging. To hold his listeners’ attention, he varies the meter and verse, shifting between brief, halting lines and lyrical passages; he alternates between end rhyme and internal rhyme, true rhyme and false rhyme. His vivid descriptions fill designer Ilo Tarrant’s austere, black set with vivid images of Dublin’s nightlife.
Additionally, Gray does well to make his four characters endearingly sympathetic. The line between relatable teen angst and gratuitous complaining is a thin one, and this production treads it skillfully. His speakers are sharp and witty, never self-loathing and always insightful.
The production features a cast of four Irish imports, all skilled actors with unique aptitudes for language. While Ronan Carey’s blunt tone projects an aggressive demeanor, Seán Doyle’s wavering voice and innocent eyes win our hearts – so much so that an audience member audibly proclaimed “He’s so cute!” during the performance. Maeve O’Mahony displays her femininity with a fiery obstinacy while Claire O’Reilly expresses hers with a more subtle, delicate energy.
Boys and Girls is smart and engaging from start to finish. At a clipping fifty minutes, the piece asks the perfect amount of time from its audience. Gray draws us in with his masterful poetry, tells his story succinctly, and leaves us wanting more.
Boys and Girls (through September 28)
2014 Origin’s 1st Irish Festival
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59 Street, Manhattan
For tickets, call 212- 279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission