Cast: Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi, Stephen Rea
Seen on: October 11
Is it possible to fall in love with a play? When it’s Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk as performed by Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi, and Stephen Rea then yes. Excuse the language, but holy sh*t, that was some amazing theater!
Cillian Murphy said in an interview how he wanted the audience to get out of the performance exhausted. Well, mister Murphy, mission accomplished. While he (1) and Mikel Murfi (2) were doing exhausting physical theater on stage, the audience is left doing mental gymnastics in their seats trying to keep up and understand what is going on. Because who are these men? Where are they, what are they to each other, and what is Ballyturk? And is that third man that comes in halfway through the play (Stephen Rea) really Death? What’s with the balloons, the talcum powder, and the shoes? And how did it exactly end?
Even buying the playbook afterwards with the whole text and annotations in it didn’t clear anything up. However, Ballyturk doesn’t need clearing up. It is what it is. The best way I can describe it is poetry by way of physical comedy and layers of storytelling. Nothing is given a name, an explanation, or a meaning, yet the entire audience is at the edge of their seats with baited breath to see what happens next. Despite constantly wondering what is going on, the audience is never pulled from the story. Every single moment in the play gives a little bit of what we all hope is an answer to our questions. Suspense writers can learn from Enda Walsh’s way of giving just enough to rapture and not enough to give away.
After all of that, let me try and explain what the story is about: two men (1 & 2) are in a room together. They have a routine, they talk as if they’ve known each other for years, and they have memories. They don’t have a door though. Nor a window. 1 is a nervous man, relying on 2 to explain or help or comfort him. But 2 is just as lost as 1 is. Then there is Ballyturk. The way the men tell it, Ballyturk is a town. And there are people in Ballyturk; Larry, Sophie, Cody, and others. 1 and 2 often play out characters and stories from Ballyturk, complete with yellow jumper (“I fecking hate yella!”), skimmed milk (“Behind the eggs”), and dates (clouds and clouds and clouds of talcum powder and cheap deodorant are used). They each take turns picking who to play next and what the story is going to be, complete with outfits, sound effects, and props. But what exactly is Ballyturk? Then comes man 3. He comes through the wall, seemingly from a field or pasture. Is he Death? We never really find out. He comes with explanations though, some of which make sense and others don’t. Because who is he and how does he know these men? And why does he come through a huge wall in the door-less room? Despite this middle piece of the play taking a bit of flow out of the play, it still intrigues, and delivers some fabulous comedic moments (cookie-Jenga, anyone?)
Ballyturk is a whiplash of a play, jumping from action to comedy to heartbreak to cringe to laughter to running and dancing to epileptic seizures to blushing to flies and bunnies. And that was just the first act. I was so, so impressed with Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi, you have no idea. Their timing and physical comedy was on a whole new level of amazing. Earlier this year I raved about Billy Crudup as Lucky in Waiting for Godot, but these two men blow that right out of the water (sorry, Billy!). There are four major movement scenes in the play, all high-speed and detail-crucial, and they pull them off flawlessly. It made me feel utterly pointless as both an actress and a human being with a body. Again, holy sh*t!
There are many layers in Ballyturk and because the play never wants to explain itself it leaves the audience with their own interpretation of what is and was happening. For me, it was never about the two men or their imaginary town or the murderous bunnies. Early on, 2 says to 1 “Let’s not talk about us, bunnies are much more arbitrary,” and that is for me part of the essence of what this play was about in a round-about way. But it could have been about something else entirely to the person next to me. And that is ultimately the brilliance of Enda Walsh and the actors. Cillian Murphy stole the show for me with his small gestures of his nervous and seizures-plagued 1, his attention to detail both in himself and his surroundings, his timing both comedic and dramatic, and just his overall conveyance of emotion. I am a fan.
I will leave you with a few of my favourite lines:
1. So to finish what I started earlier —
1. — there was a terrible — whatyacallit — a terrible?
1. No a terrible — it’s a feeling — a sensation —
2. A draft?
1. It’s like a draft but more overriding.
2. A breeze?
1. Less of a breeze and even more invisible.
2. A waft?
1. Tell me something of no importance and the word will come to me guaranteed.
2. Francie Lyon’s head was twenty inches wider than his neck — from a distance he looked like a wandering yield sign.
1. A terrible foreboding?
1. And it was everywhere this feeling — not unlike the wind — but more surreptitious than the wind.
2. Like a draft?
1. It was exactly like draft!