I received a text on Wednesday night from a friend. She recommended that I haul my grizzled old carcass to the Complex on Little Green Street at my earliest convenience, to see Good Dog Theatre’s latest work – a play called ‘Men at play’. She thought I would enjoy it. Seeing as I am a person of easy persuasion (but very high virtue) I decided that Thursday evening would be the occasion I would attend.
A tale of two brothers, ‘Men at play’ is written and directed by Brian Burns, who starred in ‘Remember Me’ at the 2016 Dublin Gay Theatre Festival – a show which I’d seen when volunteering at front of house for one of the nights of the run. (The other play on the bill that evening was a little number called ‘Sex Maniac’ – possibly the strangest play I have ever seen – you can read about it HERE). In this latest piece Fergus (played by Kieran McBride) is a happily married gay accountant from Donegal, who now lives with his husband in San Francisco. He has an occasional side gig as a drag queen. The play opens to the wondrous tune of ‘Theme from S-Express’ (by the band S-Express) as Fergus started recounting the story of his childhood on a farm in the 1980s. About how he and his older brother would clash; about how he used to dress up in his mother’s make-up; and how they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations of their drunken father. The brother Fionn (played by Ruairi Leneghan) interrupts his flow, contradicting Fergus’s account of their childhood, and accusing him of selective memory. Back and forth their argument goes – with straight Fionn accusing gay Fergus of putting on a fake façade depending on his audience, and Fergus making the same accusation in return.
From the two brothers we receive conflicting accounts of their upbringing, interspersed with scenes where Leneghan plays their mother; and how troubled the relationship their father had with his sons; and how he seemed incapable of showing any love.
Fergus seems quite a resilient character because of his earlier struggles; whereas Fionn seems more conflicted – despite the allegedly ‘easier’ life he has been given as a straight man. Things are not as clear-cut as they seem.
A scene between a young Fionn and his father, late at night in the car, as they watch the aurora borealis reminded me that I had in fact auditioned for this play last year – as the father I think.
It’s a touching play about the relationship between two brothers; the bonds that bind them and the challenges they face. The pressure of being a gay boy living in the shadow of a straight older brother is not something I ever experienced myself. Being the tyrannical oldest boy in my own family, my straight younger brothers were blessed with never having to compete with a sporty older male sibling. They really ought to thank me more. My lack of sporting prowess as a child remains unrivalled.
The two actors give convincing and sympathetic performances, in a play that will be very relatable to anyone who grew up gay in the bleak times of the 1980s in Ireland.
Entertaining and moving ‘Men at play’ runs until Saturday and tickets are €15. Recommended.