In the world of theater that tackles taboo topics, “Crackskull Row” has undeniably added its name to the list. Written by Honor Molloy and directed by Kira Simring for a limited run as part of the Origins First Irish Theatre Festival, the playwright’s notes describe it as “the playworld… [of] the dead. The just-dead and the near dead.”
The story begins with an ominous monologue from Rasher (Colin Lane), who is wandering the gloomy lanes of Crackskull Row in 1999 on May Eve in Dublin. His tale is half recounting the past, half reciting some old tale told to children around a crackling fire. As Basher departs, the lights come up on a house. The structure is laid in bricks and filled with crumpled letters; nearly every surface is smeared with dirt. Center stage, sitting on a couch whose very seams are stuffed with more letters and trash, is Masher Moorigan (Terry Donnelly), who’s clearly seen better days. Her long red hair is in disarray, and as her daughter Dolly (Gina Costigan) enters through the chimney, even her speech seems to indicate a wandering mind.
The story progresses between moments of dark, mysterious monologues from Rasher and episodes of the past from Rasher’s younger self and his mother. Without ruining the mystery of the plot, young Rasher and his mother quickly embroil themselves in all sorts of less-than-socially-accepted plans and troublesome romances. The memories, alternately recounted by the grown Rasher and Masher, escalate to a fever pitch and a bloody altercation. The story, helped along by the acting of the entire company and the meticulously written scenes, almost makes one forget the degree to which the events themselves are taboo.
The set of the stage is perfectly arranged to allow for seamless transition between the moments in the home and the monologues outside it. An ivy-covered path on the left side of the stage, as well as the space between the audience and the stage, give Lane ample room to move without intruding on the space of the house’s main room. The house itself has a small exit to the front yard and a stairway to a presumed second floor, both upstage and cleverly constructed to give a few more levels for the actors to work with.
One leaves the theater mystified. To be sure, the show was dark and unsettling. Its themes were off-putting — or disturbing — to say the least, but it certainly is not a 75-minute display of horror. “Crackskull Row” certainly does give the curious mind a lot to work with.
“Crackskull Road” is running at the Workshop Theater at 312 West 36th Street as part of the Origins First Irish Theater Festival through Sept. 25.
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 9 print edition. Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]