Reduced to a rubble of body parts and gathered into a carrier bag, John has literally fallen to pieces. Veritable is the metaphor in Patrick J. O’Reilly’s new physical play, showing a depressed young man pushed to breaking point.
The premise for Tinderbox Theatre’s new production is quite absurd. We find John’s mother Alice (Maria Connolly) and fiancé Caroline (Roisin Gallagher) panicking over his collapse. They call in a handyman, Henry (Patrick Buchanan), to fuse him back together with adhesives. But if that seems a meaningless endeavour, the play may be accepting that some things are beyond usual repair.
Vigorously directed by O’Reilly to even find time for a cartoonish title sequence, this is a surprisingly upbeat approach to mental illness. After Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, why not?
There might be something to be gained from examining the wreckage. Ciaran Bagnall’s domestic set, with jutting beams exposed and paint unfinished, certainly suggests a meeting point for construction and deconstruction. Those dual tensions are also in the writing; in a plot woven from O’Reilly’s personal history, John (Shaun Blaney) steps in from the side, fully-formed, explaining that we are seeing is an imaginative version of events that happened.
From here we trace John’s depression back to his unhappy and phoney job in a telesales office – itself a metaphor for reticence. A life-sized and stylised portrait of the character, crafted in separate panels, is creatively deployed to show body parts leaving him: a somersaulting ear; a flapping torso. Blaney, affectingly unhinged and contorted in a well-controlled performance, credibly guides us to a nervous breakdown.
It’s admirable of O’Reilly to show others caught in the disaster zone. When John decides to manage his suffering himself, we see Gallagher’s Caroline careen from worries for his wellbeing to fears of being unloved. By virtue of being a chiselled man, Henry, dutifully played by Buchanan, feels the pressure of putting things right. But the play is most compassionate to Alice, an abandoned wife who, in Connolly’s freighted performance, can only tend to so much. “I’m a good mom,” she says with determination.
O’Reilly’s play is less interested in blame, making for a fresh acknowledgement of people’s limitations. Unfortunately, the writing itself comes in short. It feels like a cheat to not get an ending inasmuch as a playwright’s note detailing the play’s origins, leaving its departure, through performance, a frustrating mystery.
The Man Who Fell To Pieces was at The MAC, Belfast, until February 11th. For more details, click here.