enda walshs damaged characters

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te view of Iri pywrigt Enda Walsh, most people—himsel included—aren’t that ar rom the cli ’s edge o madness. Given a chemical imbal- ance or the right series o circumstances—divorce, bankruptcy, the death o a loved one—you too could end up staring out a window rom a padded room. “It excites me to think about characters that live their lives in physical or mental extremes and t hat have developed into these near- monsters,” says Walsh, during a recent video chat rom his home in London. “I do believe in t he human spirit. But we’re all accidents away rom alling apart.” In claustrophobic plays such as Bedbound , The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom—  works that have captivated U.S. audiences and critics in recent seasons, with European productions touring to several American cities and new stagings by such companies as New Yo rk’s Irish Repertory Theatre a nd Solas Nua o Washington, D.C.—Walsh has captured the precarious nature o humanity, with savage results. His seemingly grotesque characters are imprisoned by deep-seated pain and ear in panic rooms o their own creation, re-enacting soul-scarring events rom the past. They nd comort in the amil iar ormulas o their sel-mythologies, but remain locked in a desperate struggle to keep the outside world, as well as the t ruths o their heartbreaking l ives, at bay. “The people in his plays are always that heightened version o what  we recognize as ourselves,” suggests Walsh ’s riend Mikel Mur, who directed Druid Theatre Company’s Galway premiere o Walworth and acted in its production o Ballroom. “He uses theatre to create the illusion that these people are deranged, clinging to sanity by a t hread.”  The 42-year-old playwright says his penchant or conjuring up characters who are trapped in a sadistic tape loop o storytelling can be traced back, in part, to his time living in London in the late 1990s, when his breakthrough play Disco Pigs was briefy running on the West End.  At the time, Walsh ound himsel stuck in a series o obsessive- compulsive rou tines. He began e xperiencing panic attacks i he dev iated rom, say, drinking a glass o water at a precise moment every day, or  visiting the same cae and ordering the exact same lunch. “I was very,  very aware o the time and the shape o a day and wanting to be in control at all times,” he recalls.  As part o his daily routine, Walsh would walk by a certain house and peer into the ground-foor fat, where he’ d nd t he same arrange- ment o people—an older couple and their son—standing very still in nearly identical spots every day. He dedu ced rom the items in t he room that they were Irish immigrants like himsel. That snapshot became seared in his brain. “We were all sort o aligned, all living a very patterned, rhythmic existence,” he says. “I I’d allen out o that pattern, I would have allen o the edge o the world, it seemed—like everything would just be ucking chaos. T hat’s had a big infuence o n The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom and probably all my plays since then. They ’re all about routine and pattern and trying to recreate worlds or break ree o t hese worlds. Walsh has no formal training as a playWright.  However , as a k id, he was involved in t he Dublin You th Theatre, a nd one o his teachers in secondary school was novelist Roddy Doyle. He studied lm at un iversity; it was only ater school, when he had moved rom Dublin to Cork, that he ell in with a ragtag group o likeminded (and wayward) artists, who, he says, didn’ t know i they wanted to be a rock band or make theatre. “We were just guys in t heir twenties who  were living on the dole, drinking, eating crisps and taking drugs, because that’s what you’re supposed to do at that t ime in your lie,” is how he describes it.   The group eventually became organ ized enough to procure a small theatre space in Cork, and began to create small, improvised pieces, with Walsh as the designated w riter. It was during t his period that Walsh wrote his rst couple o pla ys, including The Ginger Ale Boy—about a young ventriloquist who has a nervous breakdown and thinks the people in his town are going to eat him alive—wh ich was produced in 1995 by Corcadorca, the company that grew out o that original unnamed, makeshit group. His next play, Disco Pigs , was inspired by the insouciant, debauched time in his Cork with his cronies. Disco Pigs summed up just how druggy and trippy it was or us,” he recalls. “Yet we were all desperate romantics, trying to all in love with someone.” Corcadorca produced Disco Pigs in 1996, starring a then teen- age Cillian Murphy , and toured the production internationally. It was later turned into a 2001 lm starring Murphy and directed by Kr isten Sheridan. The play revolves around two inseparable teenagers, Pig and Runt, who have developed their own insular lexicon and a haunting co-dependen cy—that is, u ntil one o them, sitting on the beach one eve- ning, begin s to awaken to the world outside their cloistered riendship. In this early play, one can see strains o Walsh’s subsequent  work: the everish dialogue, the breakneck pacing, the menacing a nd turbulent atmospheres, an intense theatricality and an aversion to 22 amEriCanthEatrE marCh10 for Enda Walsh’s damagEd CharaCtErs, talk is both a prison and an EsCapE routE by ChristophEr WallEnbErg I’vealwaysbeenaware oftheelephantintheroom,” saysWalsh.“I’vealways gottenupsetoversmallthings. Ihaveal ltheingredi entstobe areallygoodplaywright.”

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Page 1: Enda Walshs Damaged Characters

8/6/2019 Enda Walshs Damaged Characters

http://slidepdf.com/reader/full/enda-walshs-damaged-characters 1/5

te view of Iri pywrigt Enda Walsh,

most people—himsel included—aren’t that ar rom

the cli ’s edge o madness. Given a chemical imbal-

ance or the right series o circumstances—divorce,

bankruptcy, the death o a loved one—you too could end up staring

out a window rom a padded room.

“It excites me to think about characters that live their lives in

physical or mental extremes and that have developed into these near-

monsters,” says Walsh, during a recent video chat rom his home in

London. “I do believe in the human spirit. But we’re all accidents away rom alling apart.”

In claustrophobic plays such as Bedbound , The Walworth Farce and

The New Electric Ballroom—  works that have captivated U.S. audiences

and critics in recent seasons, with European productions touring

to several American cities and new stagings by such companies as

New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre and Solas Nua o Washington,

D.C.—Walsh has captured the precarious nature o humanity, with

savage results. His seemingly grotesque characters are imprisoned

by deep-seated pain and ear in panic rooms o their own creation,

re-enacting soul-scarring events rom the past. They nd comort in

the amil iar ormulas o their sel-mythologies, but remain locked in

a desperate struggle to keep the outside world, as well as the t ruths o 

their heartbreaking l ives, at bay.“The people in his plays are always that heightened version o what

 we recognize as ourselves,” suggests Walsh’s riend Mikel Mur, who

directed Druid Theatre Company’s Galway premiere o Walworth and

acted in its production o Ballroom. “He uses theatre to create the illusion

that these people are deranged, clinging to sanity by a thread.”

  The 42-year-old playwright says his penchant or conjuring

up characters who are trapped in a sadistic tape loop o storytelling

can be traced back, in part, to his time living in London in the late

1990s, when his breakthrough play Disco Pigs was briefy running on

the West End.

 At the time, Walsh ound himsel stuck in a series o obsessive-

compulsive routines. He began experiencing panic attacks i he deviated

rom, say, drinking a glass o water at a precise moment every day, or visiting the same cae and ordering the exact same lunch. “I was very,

 very aware o the time and the shape o a day and wanting to be in

control at all times,” he recalls.

 As part o his daily routine, Walsh would walk by a certain house

and peer into the ground-foor fat, where he’d nd the same arrange-

ment o people—an older couple and their son—standing very still

in nearly identical spots every day. He deduced rom the items in the

room that they were Irish immigrants like himsel. That snapshot

became seared in his brain.

“We were all sort o aligned, all living a very patterned, rhythmic

existence,” he says. “I I’d allen out o that pattern, I would have alleno the edge o the world, it seemed—like everything would just be

ucking chaos. That’s had a big infuence on The Walworth Farce and

The New Electric Ballroom and probably all my plays since then. They’re

all about routine and pattern and trying to recreate worlds or break 

ree o these worlds.”

Walsh has no formal training as a playWright. 

However, as a k id, he was involved in the Dublin Youth Theatre, and

one o his teachers in secondary school was novelist Roddy Doyle. He

studied lm at university; it was only ater school, when he had moved

rom Dublin to Cork, that he ell in with a ragtag group o likeminded

(and wayward) artists, who, he says, didn’t know i they wanted to be a

rock band or make theatre. “We were just guys in their twenties who were living on the dole, drinking, eating crisps and taking drugs,

because that’s what you’re supposed to do at that t ime in your lie,” is

how he describes it.  The group eventually became organized enough

to procure a small theatre space in Cork, and began to create small,

improvised pieces, with Walsh as the designated writer.

It was during this period that Walsh wrote his rst couple o plays,

including The Ginger Ale Boy—about a young ventriloquist who has a

nervous breakdown and thinks the people in his town are going to eat

him alive—which was produced in 1995 by Corcadorca, the company 

that grew out o that original unnamed, makeshit group. His next

play, Disco Pigs , was inspired by the insouciant, debauched time in his

Cork with his cronies.

“Disco Pigs summed up just how druggy and trippy it was or us,” he

recalls. “Yet we were all desperate romantics, trying to all in love with

someone.” Corcadorca produced Disco Pigs in 1996, starring a then teen-

age Cillian Murphy, and toured the production internationally. It was

later turned into a 2001 lm starring Murphy and directed by Kristen

Sheridan. The play revolves around two inseparable teenagers, Pig and

Runt, who have developed their own insular lexicon and a haunting

co-dependency—that is, until one o them, sitting on the beach one eve-

ning, begins to awaken to the world outside their cloistered riendship.

In this early play, one can see strains o Walsh’s subsequent

 work: the everish dialogue, the breakneck pacing, the menacing and

turbulent atmospheres, an intense theatricality and an aversion to

22 amEriCanthEatrE marCh10

for Enda Walsh’s damagEd CharaCtErs,

talk is both a prison and an EsCapE routE

by ChristophEr WallEnbErg

“I’vealwaysbeenaware

oftheelephantintheroom,”

saysWalsh.“I’vealways

gottenupsetoversmallthings.

Ihavealltheingredientstobe

areallygoodplaywright.”

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naturalism, not to mention the theme o stunted souls who’ve meticu-lously constructed an existence rom which one o them nally sees

a glimmer o escape.

By the late ’90s, Disco Pigs had landed Walsh on the interna-

tional radar, and he became associated with a cabal o upstart young

 writers—including Conor McPherson, Mark O’Rowe, Marina Carr,

 Martin McDonagh, Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill—who were

making noise and rufing eathers in Ireland and the U.K. at the time.

 Temperamentally, these playwrights couldn’t be more di erent, but

 Walsh did share with some o them an unrelenting drive to push past

conventional notions o theatre.

Bedbound was the play that conrmed Walsh’s status as one o 

Ireland’s most rereshing new voices. Produced at the Royal Court in

2002 and staged in New York courtesy o Irish Rep in 2003, Bedbound  zeroes in on a urniture salesman and his polio-stricken daughter

 who share a single bed, and a horriying symbiosis, in a tiny room

surrounded by a maze o walls. The salesman spews renetic talk 

about his ambitious past, while his rail daughter jabbers to ll the

silence in her head.

In The Walworth Farce, which got its premiere at Druid in 2006

and had its American debut at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn two

 years ago, a tyrannical ather has sequestered his two grown sons in

a grim London council fat. There, he orces them to don wigs and

costumes and repeatedly play out the invented story o his departure

rom Ireland nearly 20 years ago. The New Electric Ballroom, which

received its English-language premiere by Druid in 2008 (ollowing a2004 German-language production at Munich’s Kammerspiel Theatre)

and debuted in the U.S. at St. A nn’s last all, is an elegiac companion

piece to Walworth. Ballroom nds a couple o cloistered sisters reenacting

a shame-lled and lie-altering evening rom their dance-hall youth.

Recruited into this smothering ritual is their 40-year-old younger sister.

 When a lonesome shmonger blasts through the steel door into the

 women’s lives, the youngest sister is oered a glimpse o possible salva-

tion. While Walworth and Ballroom circle around similar themes, the

tones diverge. Walworth is a galloping, almost–Grand Guignol tragedy,

 while Ballroom is more brooding, introspective and mournul.

For New York Times critic Charles Isherwood, “The New Electric 

Ballroomarms Mr. Walsh’s growing reputation as a contender to take

his place in the long, distinguished line o great Irish playwrights…. The cursed git o speech has been used to isolate and humiliate the

sisters…. But can words, the soiling, unworthy but unavoidable things,

also be used to build a makeshit bridge to a lie-changing connection,

a release into a sunlit uture?”

The gifT of speech is similarly a Theme in walsh’s 

The Small Things , staged by London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in

2005 and premiered in the U.S. in 2007 by D.C.’s Solas Nua. In this

play, an elderly man and woman, the last two people on earth, cling to

existence by telling o their dystopian world, in which language was

believed to be so dangerous that people’s tongues were ritualistically 

march10 americanTheaTre 23

Wl

courtesy of druid theatre company

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severed. That kind o desperation also avors Hunger , the Cannes Film

Festival prize-winner rom 2008 or which Walsh wrote the screenplay.

 The centerpiece o the flm is a 23-minute-long conversation betweenhunger-striking Irish nationalist Bobby Sands and a Catholic priest, a

philosophical chess match that ends in stalemate.

 Walsh’s language is as lyrical and lacerating as that o celebrated

Irish writers ranging rom O’Casey to Murphy to McPherson. Acid-

dipped humor ows like a toxic river (“The three stooges grappled

 with the wall unit like it were made o clitoris,” says Bedbound ’s vitriolic

ather o his employees). The barrage o words has an alternately auspi-

cious and devastating orce. In The New Electric Ballroom, the orlorn

fshmonger ees rom the terriying images that have crept into his

thoughts, overcome with ear about that leap o aith he desperately 

 yearns to make:

 In one breath all love is good and it keeps me and this love it flls me…but with each step taken and a dierent love, a ragile love, a love blind,

 surely. I let go o your hand and walk away ast. And I want or the

lover’s walk and the lie-ins and the kisses and the sweet remembered 

details, the slow romance and the sudden lust o love, but my heart 

tells me that the risk is ar too great…We’re walking hand in hand but 

 you’re not really there. We’re sitting side by side but you are somewhere

else maybe…I’m kissing you with a kiss that last seconds too less or me

but seconds too more or you…My own heart’s too scarred by days and 

nights alone. Too set in its ways by years o chit-chat to little old ladies.

Too scared to ace into the unknown with just love as a map! 

Solas Nua artistic director Linda Murray, whose theatre has pro-

duced more o Walsh’s plays than any other U.S. company, describeshis characters as “an aspirational bunch, ever gazing starward beyond

the walls o their rooms and ats but never getting there, not because

o some looming outward orce but because o a lack o capacity within

themselves. Their dreams and hopes or lie outside o their world

never leaves space to include themselves within it.”

 The playwright traces the tyranny o words in his plays, in part,

to his own artistic apprehensions. “It comes rom actually having to

sit down at this bloody desk every day,” he says, describing “the great

anxiety o being a writer—the seduction o all these words, but the

complete ucking inability or these words to, actually, really mean the

big stu. Individually, all these words just add up to chaos, to noise.”

 More potent, he explains, are the unspoken truths bubbling under

the surace. “My characters talk and talk and talk and sometimes talk 

shit. But it’s not what they’re talking about that matters. It’s what they 

avoid talking about. That’s where the real drama is. You circle until the

characters can’t circle anymore, and they actually have to talk about

the thing that everyone in the ucking room wants them to talk about.”

 Walsh has long had an ear or subtext. As a boy growing up in

Dublin in the ’70s and ’80s, he says he was always attuned to what was

happening in the adult world around him—the hidden anguish, ears

and regrets and the subtle jealousies and resentments.

“I suppose I was always quite ucking sensitive,” he says. “I’ve

always been aware o the elephant in the room. I’ve always gotten upsetover small things. I don’t deal with things very well.... I’ve got all the

ingredients to be a really good playwright.”

Growing up, the elephant in the room was fnancial stress. His

ather was the owner o a urniture shop, and his business ebbed and

owed with the undulating, recession-mired Irish economy. Walsh

had a successul paper route, and he recalls how it elt at age 13 to be

counting the cash he’d collected on a Friday evening, and to look across

the table at his ather doing the same with proceeds rom the shop. “I

had made more money than he did!”

 Walsh speaks o his ather with clear adoration: “He was a per-

ormer, and his shop oor was like his theatre. He would morph into

24 AMERICANTHEATREMARCH10

Mchael Fassbee as Bobby Sas, lef, a Lam Cugham as Fahe

Moa he 2008 lm Hunger , wh a sceeplay by Walsh.

Jea Lama a Bía F. O’Bye ae fahe a aughe Bedbound ,

a ish repeoy theae new Yok Cy, 2003.

rex daughey

a Maelee

Ca Solas

nua’s 2008

Disco Pigs,

sage nYC

a d.C.    d   a   n

   B   r   i   C   k

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a dierent type o man depending on who came in. He would seduce

people and make them eel at ease, and then he would begin to make the

sale. Now I eel as i that’s exactly what I have to do when I introduce

an audience to a very particular world.”

His ather’s inuence on Bedbound  is especially palpable. “My ather got very ill. He had a brain tumor,” Walsh says. “Trying to keep

six kids ed, and the boom and the bust, it was almost like his head was

ready to explode and had to be stitched back up and made new.”

 According to the playwright, however, the autobiographical

aspects o his plays have only been apparent to him in retrospect. “I

suppose I probably am just re-imagining all those atmospheres rom my 

childhood, those quiet moments around the kitchen table,” he admits.

“I can see that I am all those characters. There’s a bit o me inside all

o them. But the expression is purely theirs and wholly theirs, and the

plays are wholly theirs.”

Considering the harsh, unflinChing quality of

his plays and the disturbed nature o his characters, the still-boyish Walsh is a rather ordinary guy—warm and unny. He laughs easily 

and oten and proesses to live “a normal, ordinary lie” in London

 with his magazine-editor wie and young daughter.

“As a person, he is modest and quite shy,” says actor-director

 Murf. “You’d never pick him out in a room as the writer o such

ucked-up worlds.”

 Yet there’s a palpable restlessness about him that’s ultimately 

charming. In conversation, he fdgets in his seat, while words hurtle

rom his mouth in an expletive-laced renzy.

“I eel pretty inadequate as a writer. I don’t think I’m getting

there yet. So the pieces tend to be really anxious,” he says. “Like

sometimes I eel the writing isn’t good enough. Not that it’s not suc-

cessul enough. I don’t care about that. But maybe it’s just not trueenough or real enough or imagined perectly enough.” He conesses

to occasionally asking himsel: “Why the fuck am I a writer? Like do

something real ! Do something that people will actually get a use out

o. Like be a ucking plumber .”

Still, he says o his writing, “I I didn’t have it, I’d be like a ucking

puddle on the ground.”

Despite his anxieties and sel-doubts, Walsh pushes onward. His

next play, Penelope, is inspired by The Odyssey’s suitor-snubbing wie. It

 will be staged this spring in Germany at Theatre Oberhausen, with its

English-language premiere likely happening at the Druid this summer.

 Walsh describes Penelope as being set in a swimming pool drained o 

 water, with a hulking barbecue grill looming next to it. Four men o 

 varying ages, dressed in tight Speedos, are walking around in ip-ops.

One o them fres up a torch and starts cooking a cold sausage over the

ame. Ominously, a long streak o blood alongside the ladder plunges

down into the empty pool. A man in a party hat is trying to clean upthe blood with a sponge. The atmosphere, as Walsh imagines it, is

thick with malevolence. When he sets out to write a play, he says he

thinks or a long time about an image and the atmosphere surrounding

it—then he starts writing.

In addition to Penelope, Walsh is in the midst o working on two

new screenplays, including one about the British soul singer Dusty 

Springfeld, a portrait o the artist in the years beore she recorded the

seminal Dusty in Memphis . His 2005 play, Chatroom, a psychological

thriller that Walsh calls “ Lord of the Flies set in cyberspace,” has been

adapted into a flm by  Ringu director Hideo Nakata.

Despite his success, Walsh does have his detractors, some o whom

probably wish he would take up a career in plumbing. Most denuncia-

tions o his work attack what they see as its artifcial ity, or claim thatit’s difcult to empathize with his characters.

 Murf, or his part, thinks his riend has too oten been tagged

 with an unair “nihilist” label. “He writes about people confned to

situations in which there seems to be little or no possibility o escape

or redemption,” reasons Murf. “He appears a man who has no aith in

the capacity o a human to turn a lie around. But people should look 

more closely. His characters have unerring humanity.”

Indeed, Walsh’s plays may serve up harsh portraits o deeply 

damaged souls, but you’re not a Pollyanna i you detect a streak o 

optimism. The bleak, unblinking existentialism o Beckett has certainly 

inuenced Walsh. But the small surges o resilience and hope that get

repeatedly stomped in his plays are never ul ly obliterated.

“Maybe someone watching The New Electric Ballroom will go, ‘Ireally need to pick up the telephone, ring that guy, and ask him out on

a date.’ Because maybe that is the message o the play,” Walsh says. “It’s

a very simple strain, and yet I’ve told it in a very dierent way. You have

to get up in the morning, you have to take a chance, and you have to

burn. You have to open the door and go out there and risk living.”

Cp Wb  American Theatre a

W, w pp m Jm f. e

W’ The New Electric Ballroom The Walworth Farce 

vb vm m tCg Bk; tCg w pb

Penelope, p m wk, 2011.

MarCh10 aMeriCantheatre 25

Michael Glenn Murphy, left, and Raymond Scannell in Druid’s 2006

staging of The Walworth Farce.

Catherine Walsh, left, and Rosaleen Linehan in Druid Theatre Company of

Ireland’s 2008 production of The New Electric Ballroom.

T  onI  WI  L k I  n S  on

R  oB e R T D ay 

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