Front Row Reviews

“Who’s-Dead McCarthy” Speaks to Our Inner Selves

Word for Word and Z Space

Z Space’s artistic Word for Word program blends the genres of story-telling and theatre. Each word of a classic short story spoken as well as enacted.  In “Who’s-Dead McCarthy,” Director Paul Finocchiaro perceptively tunes into the work of renowned Irish novelist and short-story artist Kevin Barry. He then empowers a talented ensemble to vividly portray the many complexities of human nature that Barry unfolds.

Set and Lighting Designer Jeff Rowlings creates a stunning ancient brown-brick arched bridge, symbolize change, with collected debris under it. Videos flash of Dublin and a single small cottage, a speck in a sea of rolling green hills.

Kevin Barry, renowned Irish writer is known for his dark psychological themes of loss, identity, and isolation. He has garnished many awards since his first writings in 2013 when he won the International Dublin Literary award.

L-to-R Monica Slater and Ryan Tasker; all images: Jay Yamada

The first short story, “The Coast of Leitrim” tells a tale of a solitary Irish man, Seamus, (versatile Ryan Tasker) who feigns a vague indifference to the world. He finds himself captivated by a young, shy Polish server, Katherine (confident Monica Rose Slater) at a nearby café. He soon falls into a dark well of self-doubt and anxiety. Finally, he asks her out and a beautiful love affair ensues. But the cloud of insecurity hovers over him. He hears her murmuring in polish as she sleeps and has the words translated in his trusty Smart Phone. Thus begins his slide down the slippery slope of self-degradation. Tasker, portraying Seamus, effortlessly transitions between emotions, capturing the essence of each mood.

Interesting how adept the actors are at adding the “he said, she said” without losing intonations or changing moods.

L-R Ryan Tasker, Ailbhe Doherty, Stephanie Hunt, Joel Mullennix, Monica Slater

In his second play, “The Wintersongs” an old, loud crazy woman, (multi-talented Stephanie Hunt) yells out inappropriate phrases and words, constantly drawing attention to herself on a train ride to Dublin.  Wit and dark humor pour out of this short story as Hunt masterly depicts mental illness. The word “tree” never brought such belly laughs. Annoyed Sarah, the 17-year-old sitting next to her (Ailbhe Doherty), has to bear the brunt of the folly until Crazy Woman turns her psychic focus on Sarah. How crazy are the crazies?  

L-R John Flanagan, Joel Mullennix

The third piece is the most powerful and the title of the play, “Who’s-Dead McCarthy.” Con McCarthy, dynamically played by John Flanagan, touches deep inside, yet steps aside death, the ultimate universal concern. McCarthy announces a death, “Did ya hear about …” then adds a wry smile. He loves spreading the word of a death, and immediately adding details to anyone who will listen. Empathetic and curious Narrator (Joel Mullennix) gently pulls us along, in a conciliatory manner, to follow McCarthy as he roams throughout the smalltown like a Town Crier. Mullennix keeps us wondering how this story will end, as a lingering underlying sadness invades the piece.  

Sound designer Matt Stines, teams up with original music composer, Colm O’Riain, to enrich the ambiance of Ireland, capturing its cultural complexities and its melancholy stemming from a tumultuous history. Barry’s stories not only reflect this history, but also grabs readers by tapping into universal emotions and responses in everyday life.

This is a gem that should not be missed.    

“Who’s-Dead McCarthy” written by Kevin Barry, Directed by Paul Finocchiaro, at Z Space info: until July 21, 2024

cast: Ailbhe Doherty, John Flanagan, Stephanie Hunt, Joel Mullennix, Monica Rose Slater, Ryan Tasker