Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe


West End Productions
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Rob's review of Deathtrap

James Patten, Philip J. Shortell, and Marc Comstock
Photo by Colleen Neary McClure
Da, an Irish play by Hugh Leonard, won the Tony Award in 1978, beating out Chapter Two, Deathtrap, and The Gin Game. Why did it win? My guess is that part of the reason was that it was not by an American playwright. Anything coming from overseas bore a patina of class back then. (I think we still have this bias to some extent today. Give us British accents on stage and we start feeling inferior.)

The more likely reason it won is that Leonard's technique, jumping back and forth in time between present and past, probably was quite innovative at the time. By now, we have seen enough movies and plays with temporal shifts in them that it doesn't impress us that much anymore. Still, it's enjoyable to see how well Leonard carries it out.

The play is a pretty typical memory play with Leonard looking back at his upbringing in a working class, not very educated Irish family. Not a dysfunctional family, like we might expect. His parents care for him, want the best for him, aren't alcoholics, and very rarely argue. Where's the material for dramatic conflict here? Don't expect emotional fireworks. It's just the everyday events one goes through while growing up—like getting a job, writing a thank-you letter, coming on to a girl for the first time, and feeling humiliated by your parents—that are enough to make this a satisfying play. There are a couple of lulls in the action but overall it sustained my interest all the way through.

Charlie, the main character, is a writer living in London who has come back home to the outskirts of Dublin for his father's funeral. Charlie is obviously Hugh Leonard, and the fact that "Hugh Leonard" was a pen name for John Keyes Byrne suggests that when he got to London he tried to distance himself from his Irish roots and the family that raised him. They embarrass him, but not much more than most parents embarrass their adolescent children. His mother doesn't hesitate to mention to guests that Charlie is adopted. His father works as a gardener, knows his plants but not a lot else, and hopes that Hitler will win the war so the English get what they deserve for having taken over Ireland.

Charlie's father is the "da" of the title, meaning "dad." The gimmick of the play, which works well, is that Da's ghost stays in the house after the physical Da has been buried, and is as real a presence as Charlie himself. Charlie isn't even surprised that Da is still there talking to him and burning his hand on the teapot, like he always did. Charlie is going through papers and trying to clear out the house, and each item elicits a memory going back as far as age 7. These are acted out by Charlie and Da and the six other characters in the play, and it all flows seamlessly between present-day Charlie in 1968 and young Charlie at various ages. It's a tour de force of time manipulation.

There are good acting opportunities here, down-to-earth, not flashy, and director Colleen Neary McClure has assembled a group of actors who do the play justice. In smaller roles, Ashley Reid, Carolyn R. Ward, and Tim Riley are very good. Frederick Ponzlov casts an imposing figure in stature, bearing, and articulation as Charlie's first boss. As Charlie, Marc Comstock never leaves the stage, and he is effective as well, but I'm not sure that his accent is entirely stable throughout the show.

What more can one say about Philip J. Shortell and Jessica Osbourne as Da and Mother? Every time I've seen either one of them onstage, the acting has been flawless, and they continue their streak here. I have almost come to take them for granted, since they make it look so easy. Besides seeing the old pros, one of the pleasures of going to the theater is discovering fresh new faces, and there is such a discovery in this show: the young and very talented James Patten as the young Charlie. He's a stage natural. He has just finished his freshman year at the University of New Mexico and, unfortunately for us in Albuquerque, has decided to continue his theater studies in New York state, not New Mexico. I wish him well, but am sorry for the loss. Catch him in this show before he goes.

The set, a kitchen in an Irish home, is perfectly designed by Glenn Pepe and dressed by Susan Starnes, with spot-on props by Nina Dorrance. Good lighting is provided by Petifoger and fine costuming by Lorri Oliver (I especially like the high-waisted trousers on young Charlie). Colleen McClure and stage manager Rebecca Johnstone Smith keep the stage action as fluid as the ebb and flow of memory. Good work by everyone involved.

One of the audience members mentioned to me that there is another spirit pervading this show besides that of Da. It's the spirit of Alan Hudson, a cherished member of the Albuquerque theater community who passed away around Christmas last year. Alan, born and raised in Ireland, was instrumental in founding and choosing the plays for the Irish Theater Festivals that were staged at various venues around town a few years ago. He also was a very good actor in his prime, and was a meticulous dialect coach when it came to Irish accents. Although not scheduled as such, this play is a worthy tribute to our dear friend Alan.

Da, through June 10, 2018, for West End Productions at the North 4th Art Center, 4904 4th Street NW, in Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $18 to $22, or $25 at the door. For more information, visit