In an era set to dismantle the patriarchy, the thought of writing a play about white middle-class males may seem increasingly parochial. Their gaze held prominence over theatre long enough, and new work about the hidden lives of women and minorities are overdue. Yet it might also be an awkward truth for the industry to admit that men haven’t gone anywhere; they’re still navigating this absurd existence just like everyone else.
You don’t have to look further than Eugene O’Neill’s monstrous Long Days Journey Into Night – part of the inspiration for Una McKevitt’s new play – to see that men, classically, are bad communicators; only after getting stinking drunk do they unburden themselves. That’s a crutch as archaic as certain gender roles. Masculinity, endlessly deconstructed, desperately needs to be remodelled into new forms.
This makes McKevitt’s naturalistic approach quite refreshing. Influenced by her years of documentary theatre-making, the style adopted with nice restraint by the cast. Three men working as stage crew arrive and start building the set for an artist’s performance. As they screw together rostra, rig lights and lay a marley floor, their conversation moves naturally from football to fishing to Dylan Thomas. Its subtext tells another story. Woven anecdotes about Irish police and Columbian gangsters suggest that lodged in the back of these men’s minds is that most masculine of pressures: power.
The discreet veil of intimidation haunts McKevitt’s enlightening portrayal of men hurt by the patriarchy, given no forum in which to speak truthfully except when amongst their own (they fascinatingly fall silent when a woman enters).
As naturally as their chat orbits their insecurities, they arrive at their own confessions. PJ Gallagher, a well-known comedian, finds incredible charm but also sure gravity in a figure calmly and courageously sharing details of abuses suffered as a child. Disarmingly, James Scales stiffens into an aching picture of a man repenting his wrongdoings. The most guarded of the three – and nicely played by Bally McKiernan – he is plagued by alien conspiracy theories and feelings of irrelevance.
It’s no accident that the biggest voice is given to the woman artist in the play (a self-possessed Molly O’Mahony). When finally built, Aedín Cosgrove’s set serves a symbolic purpose. The woman takes to the stage to perform, and the men look on from the side.
McKevitt’s play shows that to ignore masculinity is to miss the point of toppling the patriarchy: the need to free both sexes.
Alien Documentary is on until 15th October 2016 at Project Arts Centre. Click here for more details.