If you dream of being a golf pro, it may not be a good idea to use your prized 9-iron as a weapon in a Belfast street riot.
But just try telling that to Ross, the ebulliently wisecracking young hooligan at the center of “A Midsummer Night’s Riot,” by Irish dramatist Rosemary Jenkinson. As winningly portrayed by Josh Sticklin in the Keegan Theatre’s world-premiere production of this one-actor play, directed by Abigail Isaac, Ross has far more energy than he knows what to do with: If he tried to stay indoors during a riot, he might combust, like one of the petrol bombs that are a weapon of choice for his disadvantaged Belfast peers.
Sticklin and Isaac brought vibrancy and humor to Jenkinson’s solo shows “Basra Boy” and “Cuchullain,” which Keegan premiered in 2011 and 2012. The effect of “Midsummer” is very similar: In this play, as in the previous ones, the animated Sticklin lends charm to a mischievous Belfast protagonist who speaks in lyrical floods of Northern Irish slang and profanity. And in this play, as in the others, the actor also spends some time conjuring up oddball subsidiary characters, whose interactions with the hero suffice to bring an entire gritty urban neighborhood into view. (“Midsummer” is running in repertory with Keegan’s “Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight.”)
But there’s more poignancy in “Midsummer” than there was in the previous plays: Ross’s yearning to succeed in golf casts light on the lack of opportunities available to him. Without much education, with no money and no place to train, he probably will never follow in the footsteps of his idol, Rory McIlroy, a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, whose name is emblazoned on a poster over Ross’s bed. (The bed, surrounded by discarded clothes and half-emptied bottles of booze, is the set’s principal furnishing.)
Still, because Sticklin’s Ross is so exuberant and cocksure, the play’s mood is principally upbeat. Now we see the young smart-aleck teeing off in the middle of a riot; now he’s standing on one leg in a martial arts stance as he fantasizes about a neighborhood street-fighter he has nicknamed the “ninja girl”; now he’s cheerfully reeling from a water-cannon blast directed his way by the police (or the “peelers,” as Ross calls them; Keegan offers a helpful handout defining some 30 terms from Belfast argot).
Throughout such events — and during his dealings with his drug-fuddled best friend Minter and Minter’s femme fatale of a mother, a sex-toy saleswoman — Ross maintains a running monologue whose verbal dynamism suggests that, should a golf career not work out, he might have a future at poetry slams. “It’s the absinthe of its era, the glass for the underclass, lash in and liquor up,” he crows, extolling his go-to brand of (presumably cheap) fortified wine. The experience of lobbing golf balls into an enemy crowd unleashes even more exhilaration. “And ping, it flies and it’s a real sky-hopper, a roof-bopper, a welter-belter helter-skelterer and bop-bop-pop-bop-bop, and me artillery men line ’em up, and I unload and unload,” he exults.
Sticklin gives such lines a wonderful melodiousness, while clearly exhibiting their connection to Ross’s personality. Lest we get too caught up in the buoyant world the character evokes with his slangy riffs, the production occasionally features Dan Deiter’s sobering projections of street violence, complete with masked toughs and fires. “Tourists come from all over to watch us; it’s our Olympics,” Ross jokes of the nightly riots. But of course, the situation is far bleaker than that.
Celia Wren is a freelance writer.
by Rosemary Jenkinson. Directed by Abigail Isaac; costume design, Kelly Peacock; properties, Carol Hood Baker; lighting, Allan Sean Weeks; sound, Dan Deiter; hair and makeup, Craig Miller. About 75 minutes. Tickets: $20-$25. Through June 5 at the Andrew Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington. Call 703-892-0202 or visit www.keegantheatre.com.