NIGHTTOWN, written and directed by Susan Mosakowski. Starring Matthew Maguire and Michael Ryan. The Creation Production Company. At the Flea Theatre, 41 White St., NYC. Through June 1.
Liberties are often taken with literary and theatrical properties. A production of “South Pacific” once placed the action in a military hospital with the show itself in the form of an in-house production put on by mental patients. A fairly recent staging of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” set the story in a subway car until the author’s representatives pulled the plug on the production.
Something similar has now turned up at the Flea Theater in Tribeca. The work is Susan Mosakowski’s “Nighttown.” Running a little over 75 minutes, it is set in what the author calls “a sanitarium in Dublin.” The play’s two characters, both patients, are Leo Kettle, “an inmate who thinks he’s a murderer,” and C’sar McCarthy, “an inmate who thinks he’s James Joyce.”
Mosakowski’s play is structured along the lines of Joyce’s “Ulysses,” with 13 brief scenes given titles derived from the chapters of the novel. There are “The Lotus Eaters” and “Hades,” “Scylla and Charybdis” and so on until “Nighttown” ends with its 14th scene, “Penelope/Molly.”
The printed text calls the play’s two characters, simply “Leo” and “Joyce.” “Leo” could, of course, refer to the actual name of Leo Kettle, the inmate convinced that he has drowned his wife’s lover. On the other hand, it could be easily be a shortened form of the first name of the beleaguered hero of “Ulysses,” Leopold Bloom.
The character the script refers to as “Joyce” is actually a Shakespearean actor named C’sar McCarthy, an individual whose delusions have led him to believe that he is actually Ireland’s greatest writer.
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Therefore, McCarthy, in his acquired Joycean persona, tends to discern the individual and occurrences around him as characters and events out of “Ulysses.” Hence, he convinces “Leo” to accompany him on a journey through the Nighttown of his imagination, with stops along the way corresponding to the landmarks marked by Joyce in the course of what vast segments of the literary world consider the most significant novel ever written.
Deftly performed by Matthew Maguire as Leo Kettle and Michael Ryan as C’sar McCarthy, Mosakowski’s “Nighttown” remains what it very probably had to be by definition, namely a literary curiosity, albeit an unusual and interesting one.
One odd aspect of “Nighttown,” with its two characters engaging in a kind of ongoing vaudeville, is that, for all its referencing Joyce and “Ulysses,” it’s probably impossible to see the current production without thinking, again and again, of Beckett in general and “Waiting for Godot” in particular.
Beckett’s Estragon, called “Gogo,” and Vladimir, called “Didi,” are just two of the five “Godot” characters, but they are dominant and remain alone on stage for long stretches, playing out poignant, borderline comic exchanges similar to the word games Mosakowski has devised for “Leo” and “Joyce.”
The production at the Flea, directed by the playwright, is simplicity itself, a matter of two hospital beds and expanse of flowing white material functioning as curtaining.
Actor Maguire’s Kettle is sympathetic and credible, as he moves in and out of what might best be termed reality, at times convinced that he has committed a murder-by-drowning, and, elsewhere becoming consumed by his companion’s delusions. His “Nighttown” partner, Michael Ryan, is suitably obsessive in his belief that he is in fact Joyce and not merely an actor named C’sar McCarthy. Ryan’s performance is greatly helped by the fact that he bears a certain resemblance to the author, particularly when he dons the eyepatch.
— Joseph Hurley