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‘Maz & Bricks’ is a sharp, symphonic look at loss and resilience

Timely staging from Solas Nua of Irish playwright Eva O’Connor’s character-rich two-hander

Jonathan Feuer as Bricks and Emily Kester as Maz in “Maz and Bricks.” (DJ Corey)
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An abortion rights rally has erupted in Dublin, and its sights and sounds are everywhere: an impassioned hand-inked protest sign; a demonstrator’s face, etched with rage; the noise of an agitated crowd. But the vivid depiction of activism is just one eloquent element in Irish playwright Eva O’Connor’s character-rich two-hander “Maz & Bricks.”

Centered on an appealing, twisty odd-couple relationship, and ingeniously infused with broader glimpses of Irish society, the play muses on loss, resilience and the issue of abortion in a way that feels both sharp and symphonic — qualities deftly underscored in this timely staging from Solas Nua.

Director Rex Daugherty’s production unfurls on scenic designer Nadir Bey’s simple yet evocative set, whose graffiti-scrawled surfaces and old-fashioned streetlight bulbs suggest an old city seething with modern passions. Maz (played by Emily Kester), an angry and traumatized young woman, adds to those passions when she attends a “Repeal the 8th” rally, opposing an amendment to the Irish constitution that effectively prohibited abortion. (The amendment was repealed in 2018.)

When Maz crosses paths with the flippant, roguish Bricks (Jonathan Feuer), who has no interest in her cause, the encounter initially has a meet-cute vibe. But as the two establish a rapport, sometimes joking and empathizing, sometimes sparring fiercely, the story deepens. Along the way, the toll of the country’s abortion ban becomes increasingly clear.

This scenario could have veered too close to a political parable or registered as touchy-feely, but Maz and Bricks are too satisfyingly idiosyncratic to seem like devices. Their distinctiveness reveals itself not only in dialogue but also in asides and monologues whose drive and verbal flair evokes spoken-word poetry. Whether interacting or riffing solo, the fine Solas Nua actors deftly capitalize on both their characters’ specificity and the heightened language. Kester’s Maz, a rebellious-looking figure with pink-streaked hair, radiates woundedness and brooding rage. Feuer’s grieving yet animated Bricks talks about wanting to converse with wasps (“I’d be like … lads, why all this anger, this terrorism? Take a leaf outta the bees’ book and chill.”).

As if to underscore the characters’ roiling emotions and the rally’s heated atmosphere, the actors sometimes deploy stylized movements, including abrupt arm isolations. (Ashleigh King is the choreographer, and Daugherty, co-choreographer). The dance-like motion works beautifully at the play’s climax, conveying peril and cinematic sweep. But at other times, the stylized gestures are distracting.

Expressionistic movement is certainly not needed as a pace-changing mechanism, since O’Connor’s script provides so much variety. In addition to their time at the protest, Maz and Bricks visit a high-end chocolate shop, hang out at a bar and crash a bachelorette party. Add flashbacks, and this 80-minute play opens an impressively sweeping social vista — one that illuminates its portrayal of both a third-rail political issue and an improbable relationship.

Maz & Bricks, by Eva O’Connor. Directed by Rex Daugherty; scenic design/technical director, Nadir Bey; lighting, Helen Garcia-Alton; sound, Gordon Nimmo-Smith; assistant producer/dramaturge/costume stylist, Charlotte La Nasa. About 80 minutes. Through June 26 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.