The Passing at The Abbey Theatre

October 24, 2013


A house may not be a home but what purpose a familial abode serves after the paternal unit shifts on is at the heart of Paul Mercier’s new play, The Passing, soon to be seen in rep with The East Pier at the Abbey Theatre. Three siblings return to the place they were raised over the course of a single day, each trying to make something tangible out of what is transient; each trying to reconcile their past with their present in an effort to attain some sort of future; and each paying some kind of personal penance that has overflown and rusted their genetic link.

For Fiona (O’ Brien) it’s a place where she was really happy, a feeling she has tried to recreate with a series of unsuitable partners (from Coleman to Damien to the already attached Aidan). For Liam ( Hanly) it’s an economic god send, the profits generated by its sale will help his family get out from under the cloud of debt amassed by the failure of his printing business and “IT Revolution”. For Catherine (Walsh), the eldest child and main protagonist, it’s been a place to run from, something to not become. It’s looming sale makes her look at what she has accomplished with her life. And she does not like what she sees.

In a scenario familiar to most Irish families- since the eldest stopped automatically inheriting the farm- the three are divided on what to do with their former home. Legal letters are exchanged, possessions packed up and shipped off while the personalised extension is torn down and tossed out. It’s as if it, and by proxy the family, never existed. As they cross each other’s paths, with differing levels of strain expressed- depending on who is meeting (or referring to) who, they grapple with their emotions, cutting into one another with the precision of kin in the hopes of attaining an emotional reaction that will fulfill the emptiness inside. Or at least distract from the finality of it all.

It’s a naturalistic production that remains at all times theatrical with an almost cinematic tint to its aesthete. The performances are, for the most part, solid, even if they do jar in unison with the scripts more histrionic tangents (“you never loved me”), where much is suggested but little is explained. This allows the familiarity of what is occurring to the characters on stage to resonate with the audience without clouding them in detail. But it makes for a most unsatisfactory conclusion when the proposed family get together never materialises and all that is broached in the earlier, more involving opening section, is left to hang.

The lack of resolution, in itself, is not fallacious. Despite being instantly engaging and familiar, the plot doesn’t give us enough to make anything that occurs on stage linger. Which given the topics relevance and the strength of the performances is rather a pity.

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