” Once!” (Enda Walsh and Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova) features an intelligent, generic, and unusually static set (Bob Crowley). It looks like, and sometimes serves, as an Irish pub as well as a backdrop for numerous other settings. Basically, it’s a wall covered in dozens of dusty mirrors, recalling Joyce’s famous remark that “the cracked looking glass of a servant is the symbol of Irish Art”). It serves both to locate the play in Ireland and its culture (identity is extremely in important in Irish history—just as any Irish-American), and underscores the show’s paradigm of musical composition which is unabashedly confessional.
In the show, a broken-hearted and aspiring Dublin musician’s (Sam Cieri) musical composition and performance is a reflection of his deepest self and desires, as he is constantly reminded by a Czech girl (Mackenzie Lessor Roy) whom he meets and who upends his life, and maudlin, emotional, paralysis, by urging him to form a band to professionally produce his music, and by ill-advisedly falling with him into a requited love. What ensues is comedy and professional and personal progress as he meets her Mother, Baruska, (Patricia Bartlett), secures an improbable loan from the improbable Banker (Jenn Chandler) with improbable musical ambitions of her own, forms the band, and makes an album. The music, the Irish composer tells the percussionist, Svec (Liam Fennecken), is “a little folksy.” So is the script, and it ends in the best tradition of Irish folk-music, and history, with scenes of terrible heart-break and some undefined note of future hope.
Director John Tiffany makes sure that the character’s performances evolve around their personal and ethnic identities (Are you proud to be Irish? I’m always serious: I’m Czech), which he intertwines both in their psychology’s and with the plot, by skillful, well-paced, blocking, and by constantly showing us not only the actor’s motions and interactions but the reflections of them in the large, dusty, “looking glasses.” In this he is amply assisted by an affected muted lighting design (Natasha Katza) that is likewise well-paced and dramatically dims and brightens for intelligible narrative and thematic purpose during in the play but in a way that is also ascetically palatable.
Cieri turns in a sad, sensitive, quiet performance which was extremely convincing but also problematic during the first act when something was wrong with the sound projection and his soft-spoken voice and brogue made him difficult to hear. This was fixed by the second act either by the actor himself, the technical-crew, or both. Roy strikes the difficult balance between elegance and honesty which is nicely maintained while Bartlett and Fennecken deliver effective comic relief. Though Chandler’s performance was highly credible, there was something she was trying to convey in her character that remained utterly impenetrable to me, but perhaps that was intentional because the banker, oddly enough, between her job and supporting role as artist and patron, seemed to serve as a synecdoche for Ireland itself.
“Once” runs through April 10th in Uihlein Hall at The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts located at 929 N. Water Street in MIlwaukee Milwaukee.
7:30 on Thursday
8:00 pm on Friday
Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 pm
Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 pm.
Tickets range between about $30 to $100, and can be purchased by visiting www.marcuscenter.org or by calling the box office at 414-273-7206.