A WHISTLE IN THE DARK by Tom Murphy, directed by Jason Byrne (The Company). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To Apr 21. $5-$32. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Since its London premiere in 1961, Tom Murphy's A Whistle In The Dark has been a template for Irish family dysfunction. In this remount, the Company Theatre's powerful ensemble captures the gripping anxiety of a family deep in crisis.
The play traces Michael Carney's (Jonathan Goad) efforts to save his youngest brother, Des (Philip Riccio), from the life of violence and crime his other brothers have chosen. It's clear to the audience - in that "Omigod, Oedipus is going to kill someone!" way - that Michael has set himself up for disaster by agreeing to house his hooligan brothers (and his blowhard father). But the extent of the Carneys' collective appetite for self-destruction is staggering. And for the most part, it's compelling to watch this boisterous family unravel.
The production's only low point is the stalled second act. It's difficult to pinpoint whether it's Joseph Ziegler's one-dimensional portrayal of Dada, the doddering Carney patriarch, or the one flaw in Murphy's tragic script that Dada is an utterly detestable creation, without a single moment of reflection or redemption. In any case, the yelling and stalling of the action in the second act, with a blustering Ziegler consistently hitting exactly the same emotional note, becomes tedious.
The shabby, claustrophobic living room set where these testosterone-charged males relentlessly careen around and scream and charge each other for over two hours captures the forlorn insularity of the Carneys' emotional and financial poverty.
There's a nice balance of power between the two alpha thug brothers. Allan Hawco, who plays the maverick pimpin' brother, Harry, is riveting, while Richard Clarkin, who plays Iggy "Ironman," commands the stage despite having fewer than 10 lines.
These two macho powerhouses build a simmering volatility between them that never slips into he-man caricature.
Their ability to pitch different emotional states balances a strong but occasionally hysterical portrayal of an unhappy family on the verge of even deeper despair.