I Am A Homebird (It’s Very Hard) at P.A.C.

October 24, 2013

Two former students of my Alma Mater staged shows in the Project Arts Centre recently about the effects of emigration on the person. Neither was didactic or polemical. There was no assignation of blame. Rather both looked at the choices and consequences faced by those who left, those who stayed behind and those that come or came back to a country sliding from boom to bust.

While Ray Yeates used the fortunes of the Irish football team as a metaphor for the woes of the Irish nation (The Parting Glass), Shaun Dunne used Nadine Coyle as a mirror for our psyche in I Am A Homebird (It’s Very Hard). How she lied her way to the top, developed illusions of grandeur and had her so called colleagues stab her in the back when the chips were down.

This charming conversation followed the writer’s attempts to swim against the brain drain, to make the voice of the forgotten generation count while his friends and family left him behind in the charge for the departure gate. Using the mode du jour favoured by the current crop of theatre practitioners – the documentary format – he uses readings from plays (Philadelphia, Here I Come), international news reports and regurgitated YouTube clips to try and make sense of the world around him and to get us to at least see things from his point of view.

His affable manner teamed with his growing sense of isolation is what draws you into this immensely personal yet widely felt tale of young Irish people taking off to far away lands as parents walk back to their cars wondering where it all went wrong. His slow, if occasionally excitable, delivery is perfectly paced to let his thought process travel and reach its individual destination within the minds and personal experience of his audience.

Its strength is in how Dunne makes clear the ways in which his generation have been particularly devastated by this latest wave of emigration. There can only be a few years between myself and himself yet while I witnessed my friends leave one by one (and knew that many would be back again) Dunne’s seem to be going almost all at once without the honey of miraculous growth to lure them home if things got tough.

The party is over but he was never invited and as the country he loves quickly becomes the “Lindsey Lohan of Europe” Dunne starts to feel the pinch. “A boy who feels like he has to go, but wants to stay” his reasons for not packing his bags are questioned by the Diaspora who need to satisfy their own decision to flee. Comparisons are made between here and there, pressure applied and the nation’s standing in the eyes of the world takes a beating in more ways than one.

It’s when Dunne departs from the conversation that this show’s weaknesses emerge. His use of superfluous, if engaging, co-stars (Ellen Quinn-Banville and Lisa Walsh) subtracts from the sense of isolation and betrayal that Dunne is supposed to be feeling, acting like sounding boards and comic foil that are never given enough material to be warranted.

His discordant pleas with Quinn-Banville (who’s having a one way “should I stay or should I go now’” conversation with Dunne – she’s always going) seem desperate and needy and would have any sensible woman heading to the hills if faced with them in real life.

While Walsh’s fantastical monologue about the harmony and accord of the 2002 World Cup struck the wrong note (in writing, not delivery). It would have been smarter to use the true story of that Irish experience (where Roy Keane was sent home for telling the truth) as a nice counter to the Nadine angle or looked further back to when the country was actually unified, before his time, to solidify his sense of missing out.

It also has that heinous calling card of the up and coming, the ill conceived, painful to watch dance number, that, while grounded in story, we really could have done without. The same goes for the early 90s rave tunes and constant blocking.

As a writer, Dunne might not have the answers, but he has the questions and plenty of theories, and while his rallying cry to those in two minds about leaving might be a little far fetched, his compassionate appeal and heartfelt appreciation of his country makes you think beyond what you have read to what you might actually know.


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