“In cities you choose your friends, here you take the hand you’re dealt,” cautions a young man, early in Robert Higgins’s debut play. It seems living in a small town, instead of the megalopolis, is a cross to bear.
Higgins’s comic drama, produced here by Fregoli, finds Liam (Jerry Fitzgerald) mysteriously returned from Australia and reunited with friends Dean (Jarlath Tivnan) and Casper (Oisin Robbins) in their old haunt. Drinking cans and smoking joints in an empty car park, it’s uncertain whether they’re participating in an act of rebellion or struggling to leave adolescence behind.
Director Maria Tivnan has delivered visions of alienated youth before. Jarlath Tivnan’s The Pleasure Ground, for instance, saw a group of former school friends reunite in their local playground after the suicide of a peer. Fregoli’s repertoire is beginning to resemble a map of the declining well-being of a nation, following a recession that sent more than the stock market plummeting.
Three years ago, Liam, an unemployed twenty-something, packed his bags and moved to Australia. Meanwhile in Ireland, Dean relocated home to work his family’s farm and has been glimpsing at his friend’s sun-drenched life with resentment. There’s a sense of barely suppressed anger as he welcomes him home.
This tension may be intended to show the breakdown of relationships through the embittering isolation of emigration, but sadly the dysfunction seems to lie with the characters. Tivnan’s sullen Dean is furious that Liam hasn’t heard about a tragedy in his family. Lashing out, he teases him about his ex-girlfriend Charlene (Maria Dillon). From the side-line, Robbins’s amiable and guileless Casper tries to negotiate the peace, and ration out the booze.
In performance, Fitzgerald’s Liam is so incorruptible and benign, he less resembles a sparring partner for Dean than he does the play’s conscience. If so, what does it say that we’re encouraged to share his belief of picking up where he left off with Charlene, now engaged to someone else? Or that when they’re both alone, the only available delivery is so controlled and cool, there is no heat between them? That suggests a drama as deluded as its characters.
To some extent, The Streets Are Ours may be about the roads less travelled, whether they lead to another country, or a relationship once abandoned. But Higgins’s script shies away from deeper questions of displacement, ushering us instead to scenes of verse, made otherworldly in Matt Burke’s lighting. Here, individuals miraculously find the motivation to pave their own path, bringing this unconvincing journey to a close.
The Streets Are Ours is at Galway Theatre Festival until May 7th. For more details, click here.