Love, we know, is a serious mental disease. Ken Rogan’s impressive debut play for Lakedaemon, in association with Theatre Upstairs, seems to take Plato’s proverb as its kernel.
In this sparky monologue, we follow a young man – college student, football captain and singleton – from meeting a woman to entering a dubious affair with her. As a piece of psychological realism, it spends less time on action and more on interiority, putting microscopic details under the lens. This is masculinity and desire writ large.
It might run the risk of making a dull drama, but its reflections are given rich brush strokes in Daithí Mac Suibhne’s razor sharp turn; every line is spun fresh. He rigorously struts between longing and rejection, chiselling each flash of hope into a grin but carving every disappointment into a scowl. Something, we realise, has to give.
Director Amelia Stewart is also meticulous with a staging that starts at a sprint but smartly allows breathing room for poignant moments. It’s abstractly, and appropriately, placed by Naomi Faughnan’s glitzy yet economic set, a barroom with walls made of wine glasses and fairy lights.
For some, the play’s gender politics will raise eyebrows. The woman’s side of the story, beyond being hesitant of her relationship with her boyfriend, is suspiciously silent. Since genre-redefining narratives such as Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi’s television drama The Affair, it seems more neutral to give both sides their dues.
More successfully, Rogan mines infidelity for great insights into masculinity. His lead character often references Homer’s Odyssey, gifted to him, we learn, from an absent father – hinting to a potential cycle of relationships that didn’t go to plan. Archetypes both female (Helen of Troy) and male (Odysseus) are elicited for their mythic, or unrealistic, portrayals of gender.
Mac Suibhne’s desperate man clearly feels the toll; the affair becomes more physical and risky but his hopes that she’ll leave her boyfriend fail to materialise. His anger manifests subtly, in football analysis that takes on a warlike emphasis, and finally explicitly, with a brawl on the pitch. His rage is a revelation to himself, and to us.
Despite writing affectionate scenes of intimacy, Rogan closes the play with a note of pessimism first heard in a line at the beginning: “Harmonies don’t have to be beautiful, they can be horrible”. Love isn’t blind but blinding; it can make anyone treacherous.
Hero is on until 28 January 2017 at Theatre Upstairs, Dublin. Click here for more details.