Dublin's Theater Fest: Irish Angst, at the Source

By John Pancake
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

We were numb.

My daughter and I had been mesmerized by a play at Dublin's Peacock Theatre. Ninety-five minutes. Bare stage. Three characters. Dark, hilarious, grotesque, violent, poetic, surreal, passionate, horrifying. Written and directed by the brilliant young Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe, "Terminus" weaves together the stories of a young woman, her estranged mother and a serial killer all coming to the end of the line, not one in a nice way.

After the lights came up, we wobbled to the nearest pub, the Flowing Tide.

The barman took in our glassy-eyed expressions.

"Ah," he said, "we've been to the Peacock tonight, have we?"

* * *

This city doesn't have the arrogant majesty of London or New York or the crenulated grandeur of Venice or St. Petersburg. But few cities can match Dublin in one department: spellbinding new plays. The settings may be Irish, but the themes -- love, hate, dreams, the inescapable past, fear of the future -- are universal. It's wildly original stuff:

* A murderer too crazy for the Irish Republican Army finds his favorite cat has been murdered.

* A traveling faith healer wrestles with the notion that he may not be phony.

* A tragedy that is set near something called the Bog of Cats.

Though Ireland has only 4 million people, fewer than greater Washington, it has spawned some of the theater's giants: Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. But never mind history; there are more than a dozen Irish writers creating new plays right now. Six or eight of them are among the finest dramatists in the world.

American theatergoers know that. They regularly stumble across smart Irish plays in theaters on this side of the Atlantic. But stalking these dramas in their native habitat requires a trip to Dublin. And this is the perfect time to make a plan.

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