His attitude toward his play is a curious mixture of detachment and involvement. “I think ‘bedbound’ was probably quite a big step forward for me,” he said. “I knew I was creating, even more than in my earlier plays, two monsters, two people who seem to have disorders, a girl who’s afraid of silence and a guy who just can’t stop recounting his life.”
Walsh’s play, for which he prefers the title printed in lower case, involves a father and daughter occupying a ramshackle bed. The daughter is a polio victim, the father a would-be furniture magnate who may have murdered his wife. Although the play is only 65 minutes, it is of sufficient intensity and verbal violence that audience walkouts were not uncommon.
“If you think people walked out of the New York production, you should have seen what happened in London,” the boyish 35-year-old playwright said. “But I don’t mind that, because it kind of unites the portion of the audience that remains.”
Walsh’s best-known play, “Disco Pigs,” filmed but not yet produced in New York, also has a reputation of having unsettled its audiences, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother the playwright. For one thing, the play, despite its effect on its audiences, has been widely produced across Europe.
In writing “bedbound,” which is set in Cork city, Walsh made use of the city’s slang, and its vocal patterns, and did it so accurately that people tend to think he’s a native Corkonian. Actually, he isn’t, but he is a transplant.
“Before I moved to Cork, I’d studied at Rathmines College in Dublin to be a film editor, and I’d worked at it for a while,” he said. “But all the time, I wanted to write, but I didn’t know how to go about it. When I moved to Cork, I was about 23 or so, and worked with a small theater company called Corkadorka, and since ‘dorka’ means black, I think it’s a kind of reference to the fact that Cork is an incredibly dark city.”
Trying to write in a sort of Corkonian argot helped Walsh to find himself as a writer. “It helped me to get out of my own voice,” he said, “and concentrate on writing about the city and the types of people who live there.”
“Disco Pigs,” the work for which Walsh is most famous, or perhaps most infamous, is set in Cork. “Local speech is a great place for a writer to start,” he said, “so in ‘Disco Pigs’ I have two characters, two 17-year-olds who’ve created their own language, and won’t talk to anyone else but each other.”
Walsh and colleague Conor McPherson started out at about the same time, both working with small, impoverished theater companies, which the playwright said he thinks is one reason they’ve both written plays with only one or two characters, or three at the most.
“We were both trying to create drama with small numbers of people,” he said. “I think it started there, but by now I think it’s become a way of letting the audience know a character more or less completely, because the mode is so confessional. In a lot of these plays, there are characters who are reaching a point in their lives where they absolutely have to open themselves up, and to get that feeling, you want the audience to know everything about them, and to have that direct contact with them. It’s as though the characters were saying, ‘Look, I’m talking to you, and I’m going to tell you everything about me.’ There’s something extremely strong and intimate and beautiful about that.”