By Joseph Hurley
CARRIN BEGINNING, by W. August Schulenburg. Directed by Brian Feehan. Riverside Stage Company, at Chelsea Playhouse, 125 West 22nd St. Suspends Dec. 19, reopening Dec. 27 and running through Jan. 9.
It seems much too early in the rather questionable career of 28-year-old British-born playwright Martin McDonagh for writers who are even younger to be coming along with works that are, to put it as charitably as possible, "reminiscent" of "The Cripple of Inishmaan," "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," and other products of the Irish-derived Londoner.
That, however, in the absence of solid evidence to the contrary, would appear to be one possible explanation for "Carrin Beginning," the attractively produced, decently acted, but decidedly peculiar little folk comedy currently holding forth at the Chelsea Playhouse on West 22nd Street.
Written by W. August Schulenburg, a New Englander still in his middle 20s, "Carrin Beginning," directed by Brian Feehan, is the concluding element of a three-play New York season mounted by the Connecticut-based Riverside Stage Company.
Set in the spring of 1927 in "Mullin’s Pub" in County Donegal, "Carrin Beginning," which takes the first half of its title from the Christian name of one of its central characters, brings together eight mainly familiar Irish rural types, most of them drawn with an exceedingly broad brush, and some of them protecting at least one secret that will be revealed by the end of the production’s roughly two-hour time.
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The countryfolk whom playwright Schulenburg, whose mother is said to be Irish, has assembled in that roughhewn rural saloon, prettily designed by Jennifer Collins, could have been put together from an operator’s manual provided for constructing the sort of stage works Irish professionals sometimes refer to as "bog plays."
Where McDonagh’s "Cripple" settles for just one impaired character, Schulenburg provided two, the mentally challenged Inny, purported "brother" of Bridget Mullin, inheritor of the bar where both siblings’ labor, and Turlough O’Lochlainn, whom the author refers to as "the last of the great bards of Ireland," and who maneuvers on a built-up shoe, made necessary because of one of his legs being somewhat shorter than the other.
The pub "regulars" include a second brother and sister, an uneasy pair made up of the foul-mouthed, promiscuous Nora Reilly and her younger brother, Marc, whose sole goal, achieved early in the play’s second act, is to escape Donegal and seek a life at sea.
Rounding out the familiar crew at Mullin’s is Sam O’Hara, older, embittered and bearing a secret of his own.
Into their midst comes a stranger, the beautiful and mysterious Gwenyfar, and the not unknown but seldom seen Carrin, who, since hers is the name structured into the play’s title, may be presumed to be the work’s pivotal character.
Carrin is one of those characters more likely to be found inhabiting a writer’s notebook than actual life, a rawboned woman who goes from village to village and from pub to pub battling with, and ostensibly usually besting, men, whom she professes to detest.
"Carrin Beginning" is the sort of play in which, shades of "Riverdance," characters are moved to engage in a bout of furious step-dancing, accompanied at first by one observer’s tin whistle, and then by an unseen orchestra. Brian Friel made magic of just such a moment in "Dancing at Lughnasa," but young Schulenburg is a country mile or more from the veteran dramatist, who is, in fact, the genuine Donegal article.