The Prophet of Monto

Laoisa Sexton and Michael Mellamphy in 'The Prophet of Monto'.

Laoisa Sexton and Michael Mellamphy in 'The Prophet of Monto'.

The Dublin monologue play, thanks to the success of Conor McPherson and Mark O’Rowe (and the persistence of their imitators) has become its own predictable genre. This is said not to dismiss The Prophet of Monto as yet another ho-hum monologue play, but to point out that there seem to be certain basic expectations to be met with a play in the monologue form that features a theatrically heightened inner-city Dublin. Oddball, overly sentimental and casually violent working class characters must populate it. The dialect of the street must be poeticized to reveal its inherent lyricism. There must be an unexpected twist that makes us reevaluate the relationship previously established between the main characters. And there should also potentially be some supernatural element that adds a mysterious dimension to the everyday graft characterized by the world of the play. John Paul Murphy’s ode to Amiens Street, and its environs, has met these expectations effectively and entertainingly. But it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the territory covered here has been trodden many times before.

Zoe works at the local supermarket and is well aware of how to use her own good looks, embellished by fake tans and layers of lip-gloss, to her advantage. She also possesses an uncanny ability to see into the hearts and souls of those she comes in contact with, discovering their most intimate trespasses. For Zoe, everyone she’s come across has something to hide. This is until she meets the spotless Liam, a milquetoast mensch with ambitions of escaping the supposed impurity of an inner-city existence. As a genial romance is struck up between the two, Liam’s half-twin brother Larry (their mother was impregnated by two different men within a very short period of time) grows suspicious of Zoe’s fidelity and, as a result, becomes protective of his naïve sibling. The tale, told out of sequence and from the widely differing perspectives provided by Zoe and Larry, recounts Zoe’s duplicity, and Larry’s disgust at his brother’s inability to face up to the reality that Zoe is not all she professes to be.

Michael Mellamphy as Larry and Laoisa Sexton as Zoe offer assured and, for the most part, engaging performances. However, Mellamphy can seem left out to sea in certain moments, as a lot of time his character serves only to offer detail and dimension to the absent Liam, acting instead as a narrative surrogate rather than a self-actualized individual. Given that Liam and Larry are reportedly twins, it might have been more compelling if Mellamphy were given substantial opportunities to embody both characters during the course of the play, rather than just reporting Liam’s actions from a remove. It’s not until the last moments of the play that Larry is able to find some footing as a present and active subject in his own right. Sexton projects a disarming vulnerability through a bleached blonde coiffure, effectively offsetting her character’s perceived shallowness. Both actors solidly handle Murphy’s energetic (and at times slightly overwrought) language.

Des Kennedy’s direction attempts a grace and simplicity that is not always successful. The choice to have the actors emerge and retreat into the audience over the course of the play is interesting, but it isn’t fully committed to, leaving the borders between spectator and actor broken for no real discernible reason. The staging can also at times seem arbitrary, particularly for Mellamphy who, because of his character’s lack of intention, finds himself floating aimlessly about the stage or leaning up against the walls of the theatre to assume a vague disconnectedness. Some strikingly simple moments are well crafted, though, as when Sexton, facing upstage and silhouetted by Colm McNally’s versatile lighting, accentuates Mellamphy’s description of spying Zoe from afar with a subtle nod of her head or simple shift of balance.

Murphy has fashioned a suitably engaging plot, the twists and turns of which can’t be revealed here. However, the playwright’s repeated indulgence in distracting linguistic flights of fancy and narrative deviations dulls the plot’s impact. For example, the over-laden description of Zoe’s near-death experience seems deliberately constructed to see how long it takes for one to lose total interest even in the gory and imminent death of a lead character. Murphy’s writing can have force and, in spite of the comparisons above to McPherson and O’Rowe, flashes of originality. But it could also have benefited from a judicious dramaturgical approach that focused more keenly on differentiating itself from its predecessors and streamlining its narrative.

Jesse Weaver

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Prophet of Monto by John Paul Murphy

29 Nov – 3 Dec, 2011

Produced by Georganne Aldrich Heller, John O’Brien and axis: Ballymun
In Axis Theatre

Directed by Des Kennedy

Lighting Design: Colm McNally

With: Laoisa Sexton, Michael Mellamphy