There’s nothing quite as Irish as a mistrust of the English, a drunk priest and a fiddle. Ordinarily, a play that centres around a pair of old men, of which the youngest is an impressive 100 years old, would not see the light of day.
That’s what makes the Centaur Theatre’s most recent production, TRAD, such a great feat. Its playwright, Mark Doherty, has managed to bring to life a robust work full of colourful dialogue that tells an expansive and quintessentially Irish story.
TRAD is the story of an Irish centenarian, Thomas and his father, Da. A series of laments on Da’s behalf about the impending end of his family line push Thomas to reveal that, although he never married, when he was a 29-year-old young lad, he fathered a child during a brief affair with a girl from another town. Without even the child’s name and with only the mother’s first name, Thomas and Da set out to find the youngest member of their family, a now 70-year-old son.
As the duo’s journey takes them across Ireland, a historical journey is also undertaken through a series of Da’s recollections, who is played by actor Patrick Costello. Costello brilliantly captures the physicality of a centenarian: a hunched, restless body, complete with twitchy eyebrows, rounded jittery fingers and a hoarse but proud Irish voice. In addition, Da is missing a leg and wears a prosthesis during the search for his grandson. One can’t help but think that it’s a true accomplishment on Costello’s part to endure 80 minutes without bending his knee.
On another hand, Thomas, who is played by Graham Cuthbertson, offers a refreshing contrast to the centenarian’s character, putting forth a great deal of vivaciousness throughout the entire play. Managing to deliver his character’s sweet and docile nature, Cuthbertson’s sincerity was a perfect foil for the embittered and cynical Da. The two characters played off each other, complementing Da’s role as a man trying to move forward after a century of being told to look back.
While the subject and message of the story are certainly laden with depth and acumen, that is in no way the case of the play itself. The third actor in TRAD is the play’s own director, Andrew Shaver, who takes on the roles of two different characters. The more important of the two is Father Rice, a ridiculous Gary Busey-looking priest who helps the pair locate their kin. Shaver is utterly hilarious playing the drunken priest, making the audience roar with laughter as he incorporates both lively story-telling and his physical comedy into his acting.
The physical theatrics that the characters engage in during the play were no doubt enabled by the deceptively simplistic set design. Each prop on set was well thought out, surprising the audience and giving more dimension to a play that is already rich in content. Old men jumping around, apples thrown towards the audience and booze being spit all over the place was completely energizing and emphasized a sense of involvement for the spectators. As a final touch, the musical score, composed by Doherty’s own father, Jim, completed the play masterfully. Played through a guitar and a fiddle, it transported us to a rural Irish scene and helped intensify both the tragic and comedic moments in the play. Silly and playful from beginning to end, TRAD is as hilarious as it is poignant.
TRAD will be running at the Centaur Theatre (located at 453 Saint-François-Xavier St.) until March 24. Tickets are $36. For additional information on showtimes, visit http://www.centaurtheatre.com or call (514) 288-3161.