Lex Liang’s urban apartment setting for “Trousers,” at Theater C of the 59E59 stage complex through the 22nd of the month, nearly screams the words “obsessive compulsive.”
The neatly stacked towers of LPs, CDs, videos and so forth strongly suggest that the play’s authors, Paul Meade and David Parnell, had in mind a kind of Irish version of Neil Simon’s modern classic comedy, “The Odd Couple,” with its ill-matched friends forced by divorce to share an apartment.
The similarities linking the two plays are present, to be sure, but they go only so far before the intentions suggested by “Trousers,” with its skilled and charming two-man cast, begin to blur and lose specific focus.
Dermot McDonald, played by the affable Gary Gregg, is a Dublin mailman who doubles as a disc jockey for, among other events, fund-raising affairs staged by the city’s hospitals.
Alone in his apartment, he’s rehearsing with his platters and his turntable when he’s surprised by an unexpected caller ringing his doorbell.
The visitor, who soon enough becomes something of an intruder, is Mick, in the imposing actorly persona of Daniel Freedom Stewart, son of Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek” fame. Mick, it turns out, is the postman’s old pal, with whom he shared a warmly remembered summer stay in Manhattan in 1989, 17 years before the play’s present tense.
The unhinged-seeming Mick had just been thrown into the street by his exasperated live-in girlfriend, Valerie, and has landed on his tidy friend’s doorstep, pleading the need of a couple of nights on the couch, but bringing with him a daunting array of belongings, which, beyond mere luggage, backpacks and so on includes a guitar and a huge, bright red fiberglass canoe.
Dermot, the Felix Unger to Mick’s Oscar Madison, begins to manifest decided aspects similar to “The Odd Couple,” except that, in the Simon warhorse, the sloppy, poker-loving Oscar is the householder, while the habitually neat Felix is the uninvited roommate.
“Trousers,” produced by George C. Heslin’s New York-based Origin Theatre Company in cooperation with Ireland’s Guna Nua and the Civic Theatre Dublin, operates on two time levels, which, as directed by the play’s co-author, Paul Meade, never becomes crystal-clear and easy to identify.
Mick and Dermot, the first shaven-headed and the second very nearly bald, comment on each other’s hair and/or need of a haircut, which is clearly meant to indicate that the time has shifted to that fondly recalled New York summer, but as things stand, the play’s audiences are very likely to remain at least marginally in the dark.
Despite changes in lighting and variable sound cues, Dermot and Mick don’t seem to have changed very much, if at all, in the years between past-tense Manhattan, circa 1989, and the Dublin of 2006.
To be sure, there are references to “a Russian bar on St. Mark’s Place” on the one hand, and to certain Dublin landmarks on the other, but since the actors don’t change much, they’re not all that helpful.
In the New York sequences, McDonald’s concerned mother phones regularly, and her son complains about the money she’s expending on the phone calls. In the plays past tense, one or both of the friends washed dishes in restaurant kitchens, while, in the present tense, Dermot is carrying the mail, while Mick has found himself unemployed, fairly clearly not for the first time.
Mick is desperate, lacking cash to contribute to the cost of groceries for which he shops in an attempt to be helpful. Nor does he even have he money with which to buy coffee for a man with whom he has an appointment which he thinks may lead to gainful employment.
The encounter, apparently, is fantasy, or at the very least an arrangement which the shattered Mick finds himself unable to bring to fruition. This seems not to be the first time he’s failed to follow through on a scheduled meeting.
In New York, there had been a Hispanic girl, Julietta, to whom the lonely Dermot was attracted, but with whom Mick succeeded in forging a relationship, not to mention hard feelings which aren’t entirely resolved until the play’s latter scenes.
In the present tense, the lonely Dermot is shyly trying for a connection with Linda Kelly, a nurse at the hospital where he’s about to be spinning discs for their benefit evening.
Dermot has recently stopped drinking, out of a fear of sliding into alcoholism, but his resolve more or less crumbles with the arrival of his friend.
Among his other attempts at self-improvement, Dermot had begun to study yoga, a situation which leads to one of the play’s most satisfying gimmicks, the on e which brings an end to “Trousers.”
The play is an amiable, cordial sort of work, but its bones are too fragile to go the full distance of its 90-minute, intermission less running time, and, at about the halfway mark, “Trousers” begins to wear out its welcome.
Dermot speaks of 12-inch musical remixes, and delivers himself of the opinion that he prefers vinyl, because ‘there’s something about a needle in a groove.”
At these moments, “Trousers” suggests fondly-held memories of the novel and film, “High Fidelity,” but the musical references are soon discarded in favor of more conventional comic stuff.
At one point, Dermot buys a pair of plastic leprechaun earrings for Julietta, a generous token which has bitter resonance as the plot lumbers on.
With rather copious references to such Dublin staples as Howth, Rathmines and Ranelagh, “Trousers” still seems somewhat adrift, uncertain of precisely where its actions are taking place and exactly where Dermot and Mick are in the shambling trajectory of their lives, with a backstory placed when the friends, now hitting about 40, were in their early twenties and open to whatever experience Manhattan included, might happen along.
At its best, “Trousers” is as comfortable as an old cat, particularly when performed by actors as likable as Gary Gregg and Daniel Freedom Stewart.
Ultimately, however, it becomes impossible to escape that fact that the play by Meade and Parnell is mild stuff, as thin, in fact, as parchment, and not particularly well-served by co-author Meade functioning as director.
The best word to describe ‘Trousers” might be diverting, and, to be fair, in rocky times like these, people have a genuine need for a bit of diversion now and then. If demanding standards are relaxed a bit, “Trousers” delivers.