Rough Magic Theatre Company presents 'Jezebel' by Mark Cantan.

Rough Magic Theatre Company presents 'Jezebel' by Mark Cantan.

Peter Daly and Niamh McCann in Rough Magic's production of 'Jezebel' by Mark Cantan.

Peter Daly and Niamh McCann in Rough Magic's production of 'Jezebel' by Mark Cantan.

Valerie O'Connor in Rough Magic's production of 'Jezebel'.

Valerie O'Connor in Rough Magic's production of 'Jezebel'.

Developed under Rough Magic’s SEEDS programme, Jezebel is a first professional production for writer Mark Cantan, under the direction of fellow SEEDS alum José Miguel Jiménez. It features Peter Daly and Niamh McCann as a couple that after six months of hot and heavy sexual energy find themselves looking for something to spice up their relationship. After exploring the options provided by sex shops and hardware depots, they hit upon the notion of a threesome. This brings them into contact with Valerie O’Connor, playing a goofy artist with few enough romantic options of her own. The resultant one-night encounter brings complications to all three lives, but nothing to be taken particularly seriously. The complications are more of the comical-misunderstanding-bedroom-door-slamming-knockabout-hysterical farce variety.

Rough Magic presents JezebelThis is a fairly simple show. The set, designed by Ciarán O’Melia provides two distinct, sparsely-furnished spaces suggesting the few locations required for the action. A kitchen table and chairs form the foreground and a couch is raised up at the rear. A white lampshade hangs over the table and a black one is over the couch. The three actors move around the space with considerable energy, ramping up the pace as the plot becomes more convoluted (and the misunderstandings mount). The narration consists of a mixture of direct address and dialogue. From its staccato montage of put-down lines delivered by Daly and McCann following their characters’ previous romantic misadventures to the final summation where all three actors fill the audience in on what happened next, there is an emphasis on intersecting and interweaving threads of story. The suggestion in Cantan’s script is that the chaotic energies of these three people can only result in harmonic accord when all three are working together. The heart of the show is watching the figurative and also literal dance wherein this eventually happens.

All three of the performers handle their roles in this dance with skill and grace. Daly makes physical sense as a slightly nerdy statistician with a proclivity for explaining the plot in terms of probabilities and standard deviations. Daly’s comic timing is quite acute, and he delivers with a wide-eyed clarity that becomes funnier as it goes. McCann conveys power and energy without losing sympathy as the hard-driven managerial type with a more open mind than might reasonably be expected. O’Connor gets the most crowd-pleasing of the roles. Though initially a little hard to take as her character flits in and out of the narrative as a commentator on the action, she becomes a very pleasant and sympathetic centre. Partly through bright facial expressions and partly through controlled clumsiness in gesture and movement, O’Connor effectively conveys a crucial good-hearted goofiness that carries the character across the chasm of contrivance created by the increasingly frenetic plot.

Valerie-O-Connor-and-Peter-Daly-in-Rough-Magic-s-production-of-JEZEBEL.jpgThis is not a play of weight or consequence. It doesn’t aim to purge the soul with pity and terror, nor is the audience being asked to concentrate particularly hard while it runs. It consistently avoids getting deep, and tries to cram in as many one-liners as possible to wring laughs from the audience, which is made complicit in the gag-fest by the constant direct address. This doesn’t necessarily completely excuse that its first half, during which we see the couple meet and gradually become bored with their sex lives while Jezebel flounders in her own attempts to find love, is probably largely unnecessary. There are some laughs in there, but they are derived from scattershot ironic social observation rather than being integral to the plot. The play comes to life when the principals finally meet, after which the gags start to emerge from the situations. Again though, the situations are not treated with any gravity, and so the weight again falls back on the skills of the actors to carry the farce through to resolution, which they do.

The degree to which Jezebel is an essential theatrical experience may depend on the level at which your patience is tested by its tone. If you can overcome the sense of absolute inconsequentiality of the whole thing and enjoy the skill with which it has been executed, it is certainly harmless and most likely won’t prove a challenge to your sensibilities. Maybe it should, though, and maybe had Cantan had a little more confidence and dared to subject his characters to more genuine scrutiny, the laughs might have come from recognition rather than ironic distance, and the plot’s complications from human anxiety rather than neat narrative conceits.

Harvey O’Brien is a writer and critic, and lectures in Film Studies at University College Dublin. His latest book is Action Movies: The Cinema of Striking Back (Nov, 2012).

  • Review
  • Theatre

Jezebel by Mark Cantan

10 - 22 Dec, 2012

Produced by Rough Magic Theatre Company
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by José Miguel Jiménez

Set & Lighting Design: Ciarán O’Melia

Costume Design: Deirdre Dwyer

With: Peter Daly, Niamh McCann, Valerie O’Connor