“Your foot was over the line,” a man accuses his wife, early in Furniture. Though he’s recalling a time when she got close to an artwork in a gallery, his speech has an impressively subtle double meaning here, in a marvellous comedy where people approach objects more carefully than each other.
This is the irony of Sonya Kelly’s intelligent and funny suite of three plays, produced by Druid. When, for their anniversary, Alex (Clare Monnelly) sneaks Ed (Peter Campion) into the launch of a modernist furniture exhibition, they arrive in time for the clueless speech by a Minister for Arts. This sends Ed, an exacting and patronising artist in Campion’s performance, arguing about art while indirectly tracing the contours of a rocky marriage. He turns to his wife’s supposed indifference to art, but Monnelly’s level-headed Alex is revealed as having a more significant talent for greatness.
Similarly, in the second play, Stef (Aisling O’Sullivan), a corporate worker with a meticulously designed apartment, is superficially drawn to taste and grandeur. It isn’t until her new girlfriend Dee (Rebecca O’Mara) moves in her practical and unvarnished belongings that they realise the differences between them. Director Cathal Cleary runs with this as a broad farce, with the lust between the two women comically tantric in O’Sullivan and O’Mara’s effervescent performances (“Name the two hot members of Pussy Riot,” quizzes Stef, in a game of striptease).
By this point, the superior sense of design will belong to Francis O’Connor, whose gallery set, made elegant under Sineád McKenna’s lighting, has dutifully transformed into more intimate chambers.
Such is this uplifting production, preferring substance over style, as it guides us to its final play. An elderly man (Niall Buggy) fusses over his belongings from his sickbed, while his nephew Michael (Garrett Lombard), a solicitor, arranges his effects. Buggy’s grand and easily distracted George takes it personally when his beige nephew turns down his plush chaise longue. But as Michael lists all the lessons and principles he’s learned from his uncle, the truly valuable inheritances are made clear.
With artful precision, Kelly shows how objects can be points of division in personal relationships. “Furniture isn’t sentimental. You can love it but it won’t love you back,” says George, summing up the production’s search. But if the connection is meaningful, furniture may yet become something more important: a reminder of someone you used to know.
Furniture is at Galway International Arts Festival until July 28th. For more details, click here.