FESTIVAL REVIEW: The Number (runs with A Southern Fairytale) Teachers Club until Saturday 11th.
“The Number”: Review by Kerric Harvey — May 7, 2019.
It’s nine p.m. in the Teachers Club studio theatre. A man walks out onto the stage, a man in casual pants and a flannel shirt, an ordinary man, someone you’d see walking down the street or waiting for a bus or trying to puzzle out how the hell to pay for parking at Dublin Airport.
This ordinary man walks out onto the stage, and begins to talk. And something extra-ordinary happens. For the next fifteen minutes, his quiet voice draws you into the photo album of his own early life, which, in some vague but palpable way, evokes your own memories, and invokes the ghosts of who you used to be, even if they look nothing like his.
But there is still a connection, somehow, between his tale and yours, which this honest and simple bit of beautifully structured first person story-telling establishes without fanfare, and with not a wasted word. In this short but memorable bit of biographical haiku, veteran DIGTF playwright/performer Simon Murphy has crafted a poetic intertwining of Ireland’s long journey towards decriminalisation with one lonely gay boy’s journey towards the man he would eventually become.
In Limerick, no less.
It only lasts a quarter of an hour, but “The Number” makes a big point — the notion that “the personal” is also inescapably political, whether we like it or not. In doing so, it offers a little gem of personal reminiscence tucked around tectonic plate shifts in the public sphere of gay politics.
FESTIVAL REVIEW: A Southern Fairytale/The Number, Teachers Club Studio until Saturday May 11th. There is a synergy between these two plays. One (The Number) is set in Limerick in the 1990s and the other in rural Georgia two decades later. Similar issues, different journeys and better outcomes. Simon Murphy has a nice, evocative text about an emerging young gay student in Limerick in 1992/3. His shy deliberate performance relays in a gentle measured way the traumas of coming out in an alien culture. It is slowly delivered with much sincerity. It reminds one of the gentle souls caught up in a hostile Irish society that allowed no reference points and recalls how many struggled without ever dialing “the number” bravely supplied by the few out volunteers at that time. Roll energetically into the 21st century, and we meet the charming nerd that is Alex (Ty Autry). He is engaging, intelligent, aware and a Christian – a Southern version. US Christianity is almost as new as broadband! So many versions are plied, modified and enforced in the name of a universal God with very few discernible attributes. It’s an industry. The professed certainty is that his followers know exactly God’s intentions at all times! To present that “Christian” message in a county whose experience of such grotesque manifestations by a belief system which has damaged so many, is brave, new and important. The energetic and empathetic delivery helps to persuade at times but will it convince? Throw in conversion therapy, deluded characters, and a wholly dysfunctional family and you discover a range of chapters rarely seen in Fairytales. Alex goes through a lot, to introduce a character at the end as his best friend now, either to ensure the piece resolves is a truly Christian thing. Anyone who does to a child what that person did is no one’s best friend. Perhaps they have learned but “forgive and remember”. Ty Autry is packing them in with a capacity audience that wants to hear his journey. It is a finely executed, engaging performance that might well resonate in an Irish setting, long jaundiced by the hypocrisy of those who speak in God’s name. It’s a good double bill. It’s worth reflecting on both works later – have times changed that much? Does every fairytale guarantee a happy ever after? One thing has without a doubt- you can’t keep a bright kid down! GF