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Autumn Royal

Theatre Review by David Hurst - November 2, 2021

John Keating and Maeve Higgins
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Though it has only a 70-minute running time, Autumn Royal, the first live performance at the Irish Repertory Theatre following the pandemic, feels much longer. Written by novelist Kevin Barry, whose "Night Boat to Tangier" was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, Autumn Royal premiered at The Everyman in Cork in 2017 and again in 2018 before embarking on a tour of Ireland. Directed with a languorous touch by Ciarán O'Reilly, the Irish Rep's valiant staging fumbles to find its footing despite an appropriately claustrophobic physical production and a game cast.

Known for his lean and lyrical prose, Barry's Autumn Royal is another time-honored tale of dysfunctional siblings caring for an ailing father whose existence casts a dark shadow over their empty lives. But those siblings, May, a tart-tongued Maeve Higgins, and Timothy, a deliciously listless John Keating, are at a crossroads. Their unseen father, who lives in a room directly above their spartan kitchen, shows no sign of shuffling off his mortal coil anytime soon. As the years tick by and they pass the time commenting on their unsightly neighbors, May and Timothy wonder if it's time to put dear, old Dad in a nursing home, the Autumn Royal of the title. They'll have to if Tim is to move to Australia and become a surfer, and May is to go nightclubbing again. Or not?

It turns out it's not just their father that keeps May and Timothy tethered to their house, as we learn once he's settled into a long-term care facility found courtesy of the phone book. There are buried traumas which the audience catches glimpses of in flashbacks that feel both fuzzy and clumsy. There's a wonderful moment when brother and sister consider the possibility of speeding their Dad's departure via patricide, but—unfortunately—Barry doesn't give us that grand of a happy ending. That would be too much dramatic tension for a play with such routine aspirations.

Autumn Royal
Irish Repertory Theatre
Through November 21, 2021
Irish Repertory Theatre's Francis J. Greenburg Mainstage, 132 West 22nd Street
Tickets online and current performance schedule: