“Two star-crossed lovers who knew each other but a day,” says Leper (Liam Mulshine), summarizing the plot of Lee Coffey’s new play, LEPER + CHIP, now in its American premiere with Inis Nua Theatre Company. “I told you I liked Shakespeare.”
That affection seems more on the part of the playwright than his character, a hard-talking, hard-living Dubliner fonder of booze than the Bard. Leper finds his match in Chip (Katie Stahl), a fiery teenager “looking for craic”, or fun. They meet just before she and her consorts trash his friend’s party and hospitalize the host.
Thus begins a fast-paced shaggy dog tale of love and revenge, told mostly in dueling monologs of Irish brogue, intersecting in fights, chases, and romantic meetings between the pair. Stahl and Mulshine engage throughout, mimicking the accent and embodying the tough exteriors and sensitive interiors of their young characters. The story is far-fetched, full of Shakespearean coincidences, forced tragedy, sex, and violence. But we care about the nicknamed couple, and we feel firmly entrenched in the narrative, even as it’s mostly told not shown.
Coffey’s play is reminiscent of Conor McPherson’s early work (Rum and Vodka, The Good Thief), a meandering journey through the Dublin underworld. It’s an entertaining 65 minutes, ably directed by Inis Nua artistic director Tom Reing, but Coffey has some way to go to match his compatriot.
An exhilarating climax wanders into an extended epilogue where we learn the character’s fates and exactly how they feel about them. Action can be told and not shown, but the emotional response feels heavy handed, a sensation unaided by Zachary McKenna’s film-score-like sound design. No matter, we’ve already found our craic.
[Inis Nua Theatre Company at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street] February 15-March 5, 2017; inisnuatheatre.org.