If Pantagleize Theatre Company was looking to establish a precedent to begin its first season in a new, permanent home at the Fort Worth Public Market complex, then mission accomplished.
There is nowhere to go but up.
Unfortunately, Pantagleize stumbles out of the gate with a world premiere production of Irish playwright Mattie Lennon’s And All His Songs Were Sad.
A biopic tale about Irish songwriter Sean McCarthy (Brian Cook) and his friendship with a young singer, Peggy Sweeney (Laura Lutz-Jones), And All His Songs Were Sad—which was reviewed at a preview performance—is tragically flawed from beginning to end.
Lennon’s script is unimaginative and plays more like a musical revue of McCarthy’s songs than an actual biographical story. Every bit of dialogue is merely a mechanism to drive the plot towards yet another ill-fitting song. While there is nothing wrong with a musical revue, it’s troubling when only one singer, Lutz-Jones, is featured, and she performs exclusively a cappella and with little or no movement on stage.
It should also be noted that while McCarthy does have a couple of songs early in the performance, Cook lip-synchs to a recording of the songs, making for an incredibly awkward several minutes.
The play essentially stops when it’s time for Lutz-Jones to sing, and while her voice is pleasing, the songs are long and depressing. The absence of instrumental accompaniment, movement and the decision to sing every song in its entirety are all poor decisions by director Richard Blake.
Irish dirges certainly have their place, but the show becomes boring as Cook sits watching Lutz-Jones sing for five minutes at a time.
Lennon also chose a peculiar break between acts as the first act is only half an hour, yet the second is nearly an hour and a half. This decision by the writer is made all the more puzzling by the fact there is a natural break, when Peggy moves to Dublin, at what would be the one-hour mark.
After reflecting on these flaws, one might not find it surprising that instead of being a respected Irish playwright, Lennon is a taxi driver. Sure, there are a lot of happy stories out there about struggling artists with day jobs who eventually achieve acclaim, but this isn’t one of those.
Whatever redeeming qualities Lennon’s script might have had are lost in the acting. Lutz-Jones does what she can with the material and flashes a talented voice. However, whatever redemption she brings to the table is promptly scuttled by Cook.
Sporting a wildly inconsistent Irish accent, not that Lutz-Jones’ is perfect, Cook portrays the famous songwriter with all the emotional depth of the water in the bog that serves as the play’s setting. His delivery is so monotonous it would make Ben Stein jealous, and when he attempts to cry in the waning moments, it’s more painful than touching. For an already depressing and poorly written story, Cook puts the nail in the coffin with his uninspired turn.
Additionally, the fairly young Cook plays McCarthy from the age of 17 to his late 60s without an ounce of aging makeup. Changing nothing more than his wardrobe, Cook doesn’t have the talent to make his transition to adulthood and beyond believable. Why a role that spans several decades in a matter of a few scenes was only filled by one actor is a baffling decision by Blake.
Pantagleize should be commended for taking the risk of hosting the world premiere, but as its stated mission is to bring “rarely produced plays of international significance” to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, this particular submission runs the risk of alienating a Texas audience from international theater. And if a theater is going to hang its hat on showcasing global works, when there is a plethora of talent in the area, it needs to offer a formidable selection. And All His Songs Were Sad isn’t.
The folks at Pantagleize will hopefully find their footing as they adjust to a simplistically elegant new performance space. But, while they go through this transition, maybe it’s best to just listen to Sean McCarthy’s songs on iTunes.