Dallas — For many years in the Festival of Independent Theatres, there have been locally written scripts that have stood up to works by better-known playwrights. Not in 2016. Of the eight companies, four are staging new work by local (or once-local) writers, but none are as inspired as the four previously existing scripts. That’s unfair to say considering two of the latter are by established Irish writers: one an iconic figure of 20th century theater (Samuel Beckett, whose Play from WingSpan Theatre Company’s is FIT2016’s standout); the other a great contemporary Irish playwright, Conor McPherson, whose 1994 one-man play The Good Thief (written at age 23!) is the first FIT entry from L.I.P. Service.
McPherson’s work in this century, especially, is poetically haunting (locally, Undermain Theatre and Stage West have been his biggest champions). But a string of one-actor plays from the 1990s are well worth reading: St. Nicholas, Rum and Vodka and The Good Thief.
This production of The Good Thief is directed by Alexandra Bonifield, who’s best known here as a theater critic, but whose roots in directing and performing go back much further. Andrew Aguilar plays the unnamed title character, who works for bar owner Joe Murray as a “paid thug.”
I scared people for him.
Set fire to places.
Shot people. As warnings.
My girlfriend Greta had just left me but I still saw her most days because she had left me for Joe Murray.
Power attracts women.
That’s how McPherson’s script is written, as free verse with short paragraphs and sentences. As the thread unravels, he recounts, through the stories, the reasons he knows he’s not an upstanding guy, as if he has low self-esteem about his career path. But what else is he going to do? “I hate people with skills who can do stuff,” he says.
He gets into situation after situation, notably one involving a woman he won’t soon forget. It’s a fascinating yarn with many twists, told by a complicated man who works his way through an entire bottle of whiskey and several cigarettes during the hourlong tale.
Aguilar is compelling throughout and effortlessly handles the Irish accent and the rhythm of the story. His physical size—tall and stout—lives up to this menacing character. Using just a chair and a side table, he begins sitting with his chest facing the chair back. Bonfield’s direction, for the most part, feels natural and informed by the storytelling.
But it’s questionable that Aguilar becomes loud and angry so early in the storytelling process. There are breaks in the narrative, but Irish storytelling is often more subdued, engaging and simmering before boiling over. It’s a commanding performance, but would be even more powerful with more time before the first build.
L.I.P. Service has made its reputation on gritty, actor-driven plays, and this is a good match for the company and the Festival. It’s great to have a balance of new work that could go on to further development, and gorgeously written plays like this.
Make The Good Thief one of your must-see FIT experiences.
» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres in our special section here, where you can also learn how to download our FIT app. In that app, you'll see a section for the playbills for each company, which includes cast, creative and director's notes.
» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres here.
» Read our interview with Alexandra Bonifield and Andrew Aguilar
The Good Thief is performed in the following blocks:
- 2pm Saturday, July 23
- 5pm Sunday, July 24
- 8pm Thursday, July 28