- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

Caring for an aging parent takes on the dimension of comic yearning with “Trad,” Irish playwright Mark Doherty’s entertaining and wistful yarn about a 100-year-old man’s late-in-life epic quest with his feckless son.

Think “Don Quixote” without the Spanish heat, or “Waiting for Godot” without the tree in Solas Nua’s soulfully engaging production, under the keen direction of Linda Murray. Da (Chris Davenport) may have one leg and his son Thomas (Michael John Casey) is missing an arm, but the father’s thirst for adventure and his need to be borne ceaselessly into the past remains intact.

The garrulous geezer is determined the family line carries on and that his son has a passel of stories to impart before he passes on. “It’s not in the blood to give up,” Da thunders, while his slump-shouldered son reluctantly clumps along in tow. Da prefers to dwell in the cozy realm of familiar tales about the dearly departed, one of his most memorable involving a titan of toil named Calvy who died of “erosion,” working his beloved field even when he lost his limbs and had to push the plow with his tongue and engrave his own tombstone with his remaining tooth.

Da’s son Thomas sees all this emphasis on the past as “standing still and facing backward.” Thomas, however, has not moved forward and is instead in a narrow twilight world of communicating with his Da through offering endless cups of tea and half-listening to his stories.

Da snaps out of his reverie — when the play opens, he is snoozing atop an upturned boat after a night of drinking — when Thomas sneaks into the conversation that he may have fathered a son long ago. Strapping on his prosthesis, Da is ready for a journey worthy of Odysseus and with stories as fantastically hyperbolic — notably when the geezer recounts the made-up taleof the Great Italian Olive Crisis of 1918, which apparently was worse than the fabled Oxygen Ban — that shortly followed.

They set out on a trip across the Irish countryside in search of the missing son, encountering gently mad old ladies in the cemetery, cantankerous priests, and the dancing ghost of Da’s late wife Lily (all played stridently by Stephanie Roswell). By the end, Da feels ready to slip into the next life, comforted by the knowledge his bloodlines and bullhockey will live on.

Mr. Doherty has a comedy and stand-up background, which shows in the Abbott and Costello-like patter uttered by Da and Thomas. There is a music hall rhythm to their well-worn exchanges that are syncopated to a Gaelic variation on the ba-da-bing style of delivery. Sometimes, the back-and-forth is so outrageous it recalls the Monty Python troupe at its most absurd.

Mr. Davenport and Mr. Casey are in excellent form as father and son, their closeness conveyed not so much in language but in the way they lean in toward each other as if bracing against unseen blows, their bent bodies fitting together like pieces of an old puzzle. They splendidly capture familial love through the isolated, dependent nature of their relationship. In many ways, they are strangers to one another, in other ways bonded by the stories and banter they exchange almost by rote.

“Trad” wryly revels in its Irishness, yet its gently humorous meditation on how present and future generations sculpt and contest a country’s identity resonates in any culture.

***

WHAT: “Trad” by Mark Doherty

WHERE: Solas Nua at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 17.

TICKETS: $20

PHONE:800/494-TIXS

WEB SITE: www.solasnua.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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