Getting a character to talk, any writer will tell you, isn’t easy. In fact, the title of Tennessee Williams’s 1953 one-act play reads like a post-it from a playwright’s desk, a reminder that if characters are to speak aloud their crucial revelations, it needs to come natural and clear: Talk to Me like the Rain and Let Me Listen.
If the title is sound advice, it’s hard to say that Williams follows through, either there or in 1946’s This Property is Condemned, both of which receive a rare revival by Bewley’s Café Theatre. Neither piece quite flows but director Bairbre Ní Chaoimh takes them on with good imagination.
Set on a stretch of railway somewhere in 1930s America, This Property is Condemned sees harmonica-tooting Tom (Daniel Monaghan) meeting Willie (Maria Guiver), a girl barely in her teens, dripping in jewellery and living alone in a condemned house. Her tragic history couldn’t be revealed easier than if Tom’s sole purpose was to ask her question after question, which, as we see, it is. “You don’t still live there?” He interrogates, followed by: “How do you keep on eating?”
Williams’ text demands more than a dutiful performance from Monaghan as Tom, who is cautiously benign, even when reaching for Willie’s skirt. Similarly, Guiver, who presents a vigorous picture of naivety, doesn’t quite evoke the trauma of someone with a psyche apparently reflected in their own tattered toy doll.
But as Seamus O’Rouke’s innovative set design dismantles the railway track used for the first play to build the overwhelmingly beige apartment of Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let me Listen, Ní Caomh’s production asks profound questions on where American society, stuck in the pits of Depression, can go. Here, Monaghan’s man wakes up from a drunken bender that cost him his unemployment cheque. After struggling to recollect his memory, he requests Guiver’s sullen woman to break her silence on what she’s really thinking.
What she comes out with sounds like a dream (the dream perhaps) of being surrounded by bourgeois comforts and remaining blissfully ignorant of the world’s troubles. The bracing poverty of Ní Caomh’s production, scorched by Colm Maher’s lemon lighting, makes it hard to imagine such a fantasy take shape for these characters. By the end, there’s a finite sense to the trains that howled past us in The Property is Condemned. They’re going absolutely nowhere.
Talk to Me like the Rain is on until 9 September 2017. Click here for more details.