Tea and Sex and Shakespeare
It’s time again for Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre’s annual Irish Festival. Every spring, this small theater in a basement celebrates the Celtic spirit by producing works by Irish playwrights (with the one-time exception of the Welsh writer Dylan Thomas).
Many previous selections have looked at Ireland’s dramatic past. This year, Thistle Dew’s artistic director, Thomas Kelly, chose a contemporary theme with Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy’s Tea and Sex and Shakespeare.
Kilroy writes about what he knows best: the psyche of a writer, or, in this case, the psychosis of a writer. The play centers on Brien, a struggling playwright who spends hours alone. It’s just Brien, his typewriter, his writer’s block, his neuroses and myriad real and imagined characters.
These colorful characters enter and exit through Brien’s closet, window, ceiling and walls and through the many doors of his quirky Dublin boardinghouse room. The characters also invade Brien’s writing. Both Brien and the audience are left wondering if his mind is slipping or if his imagination is merely going into overdrive.
Although it was first produced in 1976, Tea and Sex isn’t produced often. It’s not an easy play. It can be a bit confusing and challenging for both the audience and the actors. But the dialogue is pure Irish, with its poetic prose, and, if you stick with it, the payoff is fun.
Director Stephen Vargo brings two strong elements to this production. The first is his direction. Vargo keeps control of the whirling dialogue and the cast’s madcap comings and goings, which isn’t easy. For the most part, Vargo succeeds in making this complex play accessible.
The other smart thing Vargo did was to choose Ryan Williams as his lead. He didn’t have to go far, considering Williams has performed in a couple of Thistle Dew productions already. Now, Williams takes center stage as Brien, and it pays off. He gives an endearing performance that is sympathetic and charming, with a bit o’ the blarney.
There are times when the play and its dense dialogue seem to overwhelm the supporting cast. Georgann Wallace (as Mrs. O) and Alexandra Oliver (as her daughter) prove the exception and manage to keep a grip on their Irish accents. But even with its challenges, this production of Tea and Sex is a valiant staging of a tricky, yet funny script.