Noah just got out of the Joy (Mountjoy, a prison) where he “done” 8 months for vandalism. He carries his worldly possessions in a plastic garbage bag. They include a gun we see him dig up—literally—it had been buried. Barred from his gaff (home), he’s on his way to a sympathetic Granny’s. Natalie is 14 months straight, having been a napper (heroin addict) over three years until she had “a massive O.D…and was dead over a minute.” She recites the serenity prayer (for recovering addicts) every day, but drinks like a fish. Natalie lives alone, supported by the Labour (state unemployment benefits), in an apartment in the Tower (a high rise building). She’s a Tower Flower. Starved for company, Noah speaks to Natalie across a pub. Lonely and no longer sober, she replies. The conversation is incendiary. Both are angry, paranoid, and tightly wound. It’s Kismet.
Don’t let the working class Irish colloquialisms (there’s a glossary at the back of the program—required reading beforehand) or thick accents throw you (your ear will mostly adjust). Noah and the Tower Flower is a humdinger of a play with two first class performances and crackerjack direction.
Natalie takes Noah home to her gaff. They reach and shy, strike and parry, clutch and run. The pyrotechnics could light Upper Manhattan. Initially very different motivation gives way to recognition. Fear and determination joust for footing. The path is neither smooth nor predictable.
At 80 minutes, there isn’t an inch of fat on this play. Its trajectory is unstoppable. That it was a first time effort (2007) is astonishing. Playwright Sean McLoughlin has created two galvanizing characters with bruising histories groping for contact and recognition. The premise may sound like a chestnut. The play is NOT. Noah’s periodic imitations of his hero, Robert de Niro, and Natalie’s very real panic when the gun appears are wonderfully defining as are the specifics of their working class Irish backgrounds. Natalie is withheld unless on the attack. Noah is all over the place. These are real people.
Mary Murray is a spitfire. Her body language is that of a cornered animal, her speech vulgar and cocky. The portrayal of Natalie at odds with herself is consummate. Exuberant abandonment to Elton John and her fear of regression are sympathetic, but never soft. The character is a street fighter. A beautifully calibrated performance.
Darren Healy is compellingly watchable. His Noah is always in sharp, punctuating motion. A terrific physical actor, Healy gives us the externalization of feelings without sacrificing thought process. His open face registers simply everything. Complete focus makes the depth of his brooding, the personification of Noah’s craziness, and the boyish shock of being kissed each as credible as the other. The actor is exceptional.
Director Jim Culleton has created a viscerally affecting scenario with no bells or whistles. Differences in the way the protagonists navigate life are personified by every word and motion. Noah’s “choreography” is particularly inspired. Pacing is sensitive, yet blunt. The back and forth of characters across an invisible gulf is effective. Really, there’s no theater during this production, just the action before one.
Sinead O’Hanlon’s scruffy, minimal set and eminently appropriate costumes add to the cohesiveness and believability of this production.
Run, don’t walk to Noah and the Tower Flower. This is theater as it should be.
The Drilling Company presents
Noah and the Tower Flower by Sean McLoughlin
With Darren Healy and Mary Murray
Directed by Jim Culleton
The Drilling Company Theater
236 West 78th Street
212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Through October 2, 2011