The Love-Hungry Farmer

Des Keogh in 'The Love-Hungry Farmer', adapted from the book by John B. Keane.

Des Keogh in 'The Love-Hungry Farmer', adapted from the book by John B. Keane.

In Des Keogh’s adaptation of the John B. Keane book, Letters of a Love-Hungry Farmer, the solo actor plays John Bosco McLaine, the bachelor farmer, and other vignettes. The production is directed by Charlotte Moore, one of the two founders of The Irish Repertory Theatre in lower Manhattan, where it premiered in 2002. Since then, the production has toured the US, Australia and Ireland.

Through John Bosco's narrative, the play brings life to the letters that are to, from and between people he trusts and who have influence on his life: his aunt, a close friend, his solicitor, the matchmaker and the local priest. Keogh encapsulates the essence of this correspondence into a story with laughter, lust and pathos: it's a good old belly laugh at a land-rich farmer. Or is it? A man handcuffed to the family farm and thus to loneliness, we can guess that we won't see a happy ending for John Bosco. He tells us he yearns for companionship and intelligent conversation with a woman – not that he lives an isolated life but his lack of sophistication in the ways of seduction are no match for the town boyos. “Give us honest rustics a chance”, he demands after a few forays. John B Keane's character and his story are poignant, and it stirs in many directions.

Keogh began his performance at a surprisingly rapid pace, but after some minutes his delivery took on a more relaxed, storytelling ease. There isn't a moment that he as John Bosco and his confidants does not keep one listening. His characterisations – of the priest, the solicitor, and the matchmaker – are subtly understated. They are impressions to type, yet pricelessly memorable and humourous. Matchmaker ‘Dicky Mick Dicky’ arranges the meetings. None of them works out. Is that as much to do with him as the “modern women?” John Bosco reflects. What do the women want? In shame, John Bosco tells what he did in one moment of closeness in his car - for his 'misdemeanour' there would be no second chances: “What I should have done is taken her face in my hands and kissed her gently and lovingly.” 

Keogh plays his confessor, Father Kimmerly (formerly of Pittsburgh) with resigned world-weariness. After years of unrequited passions John Bosco enters a pious phase. But the priest knows and is understanding of McLaine and the men like him; knows it is all very human stuff: “You're not a sinner,” he states with gentle frankness; simply a man with natural needs.

An attractive set was made for this tour: pine table with papers and pen upon it, a small brown dresser with assorted platters, cups, bottle of whiskey and a glass; various solid chairs, a bench, and a coat and hat stand. The atmospheric lighting design for this tour is by Moyra D'Arcy. Costumes are more elegant gent than Kerry farmer per se but John Bosco is a man with tastes. He dresses well and is a handsome man who likes good food and good drink. Though naive about women, the man of Keane's Letters has intelligence and intuition: Keogh captures these qualities to perfection.

The actor is now older by about 20 years than the original letter-writing character of the book. So, at the end, when he sits slumped with no more energy for the self-mocking stories, it is affecting to see the older man giving up on any hope of finding a companion.

There was a well-filled theatre for a warmly received performance in Keogh's old home-town. Some ribald laughter and 'interactionary' episodes were accepted with gracious professionalism as Keogh bowed. After all, he had enraptured us all in John Bosco and his plight.

Rosalind Fanning is a freelance designer and artist, who writes on the arts, as well as short stories for children . She lives in Birr, County Offaly.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Love-Hungry Farmer by John B. Keane, adapted for stage by Des Keogh

on tour

Produced by Des Keogh
In Birr Theatre & Arts Centre

Directed by Charlotte Moore

Costume and Sound: Des Keogh

Lighting Design: Moyra D'Arcy

With: Des Keogh