"I'm not greedy," roars the 90-year-old Hugh Pugh in his thick Irish brogue while he soaks in a tub. "When nine cows does me, why would I want more?"
Greed, however, is exactly what motivates the two characters in John McManus' hilarious new play The Quare Land, presented by Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre. With folksy Irish humor, Peter Maloney (Irish Rep's Port Authority) does a remarkable job portraying the garrulous Hugh opposite Rufus Collins as the man who wants to strike a big deal with him over a few acres of land.
Crusty nonagenarian Hugh lives in a filthy, ramshackle house in rural Ireland. He hasn't bathed in four years, but he decides to hop in the tub when he learns that his alcoholic brother is going to stop by. While listening to Bobby Darin ("Splish Splash," of course) and Enya (he harbors a deep passion for the latter), an ambitious land developer named Rob McNulty (Collins) unexpectedly shows up looking to purchase a "quare" piece of land from Hugh in order to build an 18-hole golf course (quare, by the way, means something akin to "great"). Hugh does a good job of frustrating Rob's efforts at negotiation with long, rambling stories about people he has known and the gruesome ends they met with. But when Hugh finds out how much he stands to gain from the deal, he reveals an avaricious side that could drive Rob to do something desperate.
Before the play even begins, Charlie Corcoran's brilliantly constructed set immediately grabs our attention. We see Hugh's crooked, rundown house from the outside. With a mangled TV antenna sitting on the roof beside a smoking chimney, the old man's home looks like it could easily be knocked down by a good gust of wind. The action begins when the set rotates to reveal the finely detailed dilapidation of Hugh's bathroom, with its exposed slats in the walls, a repulsively filthy toilet, and a system of ropes and pulleys that allows Hugh to retrieve beers from said toilet without leaving his tub.
It's that kind of realism that distinguishes Ciarán O'Reilly's direction and the production as a whole. In Hugh and Rob's noisy interactions, we feel as though we're witnessing a full-fledged negotiation between a worldly businessman and a crotchety, daffy old bloke from the sticks. Maloney is notable for the sheer energy he brings to the role, vigorously delivering McManus' slangy dialogue with an extraordinary authenticity. Though he never leaves the tub, Maloney fills the stage with his presence like a blustering King Lear. Collins also impresses with a nuanced performance. He gives Rob's more straitlaced language an occasional twang of the dialectical, especially when angry, suggesting that he might be hiding a humble upbringing. Both actors make The Quare Land a must-see.
Though Hugh and Rob's verbal sparring keeps us laughing throughout most of this one-act, 80-minute play, by the end we're not sure whether either of them is likable. Greed, after all, tends to bring out the worst in people. Though that theme might not seem earthshakingly new, The Quare Land has a plot we are eager to buy.
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