BEYOND BLARNEY Nancy E. Carroll, Colin Hamell, and Billy Meleady turn a vaudeville routine into a poem.
The fiddler’s on the ground floor in Trad, but Tevye would nonetheless identify with the play’s history-bound patriarch — though compared with this venerable coot, Sholem Aleichem’s beleaguered dairyman is a spring chicken. The younger half of the father-son team at the heart of Irish dramatist (and performer) Mark Doherty’s hilarious if ultimately poignant fable — which is receiving a fine New England premiere by Tír Na Theatre Company (at the Boston Center for the Arts through April 24) — is 100 years old. His sire’s even older than the œuvre of John Millington Synge — in which he might well be a character. And Synge is just one of a handful of Irish greats, including Yeats and Beckett, who resonate as Doherty’s doddering duo take an unlikely road trip aimed at connecting past and future. The unmarried son, you see, has just let it slip that, some 70 years earlier, there was an “incident” that resulted in the birth of a babe. And Da, retracting one foot from the grave, is determined to find his kin.
So it is that centenarian son Thomas, his body bent to a right angle and missing an arm, and his domineering progenitor, a garrulous wisp missing a leg, set out on their hobbled search for a scion, armed only with the given name of the birth mother and Thomas’s timid recollection that she packed a fierce stare. In the course of 75 minutes, this aged Gogo and Didi cover both more and less ground than you’d expect, Ireland being by proud definition an expansive and insular place. Like Godo and Didi, they repeat their routines, from pelting stolen apples at passing trains to visiting their dead to recalling not just the Troubles but also something Da identifies with horror as the Great Olive Crisis. Like Gogo and Didi, they meet a couple of fellow travelers — in this case other denizens of the sod as ancient, as addled, and as mandrake-rooted to the old ways as they are. But Doherty is not so merciless as Beckett — think of Trad as a Waiting for Godot in which someone may actually show up.
I’m not sure what the relationship of the two-year-old Tír Na is to the late, lamented Súgán Theatre Company. But with this production, it’s hard to tell the difference. Súgán honcho Carmel O’Reilly is at the helm of the delightful picaresque, which makes several rambles ’round the ramps of frequent Súgán set designer J. Michael Griggs’s simple yet inventive, dark-toned set. And a superb trio of Súgán vets — Tír Na producing artistic director Colin Hamell, Billy Meleady, and Nancy E. Carroll — play the piece with precision and wit, with only the mournful strains of Morgan Evans-Weiler’s fiddle and Chad Kirchner’s guitar to hint that Trad, though bent on propelling its stunted characters either out of this world or into the future, is more than just a lampoon of boastful, blindered, blarney-strewn Irish tradition. In fact, Doherty’s small tall tale is both a loving encomium to embellished, handed-down history and an exhortation to move on.