September 16, 2009

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) — Charm, most lacking in today’s theater, abounds in Lennox Robinson’s 1933 play, “Is Life Worth Living?” now joyously revived by New York’s dependable Mint Theater.

It is an adult fairy-tale where obstacles are overlept, sunshine conquers rain and life grows blissfully livable in an Irish seaside town about to get the show it deserves after a diet of heavy-breathing and depressing dramas, a clown-rich circus.

Inish, a modest resort smarting from the previous summer’s vulgar low comedies, has imported the De La Mare touring company that thrives on Ibsen, Strindberg and the Russians, high art and gloom and doom. Well, thrives may be overstatement; the box office dwindles as disturbing drama-inspired acts multiply — the play premiered in Dublin as “Drama at Inish.”

The scene throughout is a private sitting-room at the Seaview Hotel, owned by the local nabob John Twohig, who loves the bottle almost as much as he loves his wife, Annie, a sensible woman notwithstanding a penchant for expensive Dublin- bought dresses. Their son, Eddie, in his early 20s, is madly, unrequitedly in love with the slightly older Christine Lambert, a well-educated Dublin accountant who comes twice yearly to audit Twohig’s factory.

Jilted Spinster

Lizzie, John’s spinster sister, harbors an incurable sense of tragedy, having been supposedly jilted by the local Parliament deputy, puny Peter Hurley, who never thought they were more than playmates. There is also the young hotel maid, Helena, involved with the “boots” (all-purpose servant) Aloysius, who, like all new boots — they change every two months — is called Michael.

At the center of the turmoil are the self-named Hector De La Mare and Constance Constantia, the hammy married couple who also manage the touring company and, of course, star in its shows. Having at first taken Inish by storm, their receipts evaporate as the stage-influenced locals attempt single and double suicides, miscarried uxoricide and other assorted, constantly thwarted crimes.

Comic interaction, ridiculous plot twists and farcical dialogue proliferate, including a riotous rehearsal scene and concurrent monologues in which intended empathy yields to garrulous self-pity as much ado bustles toward an ending worthy of Fellini.


Jonathan Bank’s deft directing and his cherishable cast render “Is Life Worth Living?” as the modest masterpiece it is. I greatly enjoyed Paul O’Brien’s John, Bairbre Dowling’s Annie, Graham Outerbridge’s Eddie, Leah Curney’s Christine, Kevin Kilner’s Hector and the rest in Susan Zeeman Rogers’s charming setting and Martha Hally’s delightful costumes.

But the outstanding performances for me were Margaret Daly’s Lizzie, nursing a broken heart like a barfly her last drink at closing time; and Jordan Baker’s Constance, turning petty displeasures into grandly histrionic grievances. Even if you don’t consider life worth living, the play is well worth catching. You may easily laugh your way into loving not only life, but even the theater.