nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 28, 2010
My colleague Peter Schuyler recently wrote about the longstanding tradition in Irish theatre of two or three men alone on stage talking, talking, talking. Well, the three Irishmen who are the creative team of De Bogman are definitely bucking that trend: producer Colm McAuliffe, co-writer/director Brian Desmond, and co-writer/star Mairtin De Cogain have given us an hour-long yarn of a play that certainly uses plenty of words to spin out its tale tale, but they've added a whole lot of action to the mix as well. This is physical theatre with a verbose twist, and it's a great deal of fun as executed by these clever, talented, and smart artists.
The play begins with De Cogain entering to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." He's wearing a loose-fitting rugby shirt, boxer's shorts, bright orange socks, and gym shoes; he's a big burly man with a curly mane of black hair and beard to match, and as the Rocky III theme blares, he does what amounts to a pantomime summary of that film: he's in training (the jump rope sequence, sans equipment of any kind, is particularly delightful), and then he's in the ring: he's throwing punches; he's down; he's up! De Cogain performs this silent prologue masterfully, setting the stage for what's to follow.
This is, indeed, a boxing story. It's about an Irish man named Declan, one in a long line of Declans (the clan's history is related with concision and wit early in the play; it's hilarious). This particular Declan is none too bright—De Cogain describes him as having vacant space between his ears—and his only skill is his ability to knock out an opponent, usually right after he hears him say something disparaging about his Mam. One such incident is observed by a Philadelphia fight promoter, and when some dire circumstances necessitate that Declan leave town quickly, he hooks up with this American and starts a new life in Philly as a heavyweight boxer.
I don't want to give away too much of what happens next. There are several unexpected twists and turns. The piece is narrated by De Cogain who, without ever missing a beat, assumes the roles of just about every character in the tale, from Declan himself to various trainers and boxers—even a mythical Irish cow who appears in Declan's dreams. De Cogain's performance is rich, varied, broad, and supremely physical: he seems always to be in motion, and he gives each of the people he portrays an individual stance and posture as well as voice. Scenes where he plays two or more characters at once are frequent and remarkable for their specificity.
De Bogman (a reference to the nickname Declan adopts as his boxing moniker, turning a slur into a badge of honor) culminates in a beautifully choreographed boxing match between Declan and an opponent, The Beekeeper (played by Desmond). It makes for an exciting climax; my only quibble with the play is that the denouement pales in comparison.
De Bogman provides the lyrical loquacious stage Irish storytellers we've come to cherish, but Desmond and De Cogain have added a charming and refreshing twist as they relate the tale of this accidental heavyweight in words and action. They're in residence at Irish Rep's intimate downstairs space for just a few more days, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them back in NYC in the future, and indeed I will look forward to new work by these skillful theatre artists.