Charlie’s father may be dead, but he seems to have zero intention of leaving his son alone anytime soon. Hugh Leonard’s semi-autobiographical play Da won a Tony for its original Broadway run in 1978 and it has been lovingly resurrected by the Irish Heritage Theatre for a brief run at Plays & Players this March. Da is certainly a comedy, with many fast-paced quips that will have you laughing hard. However, more than that, it’s a play that examines the complexities of familial relationships and the ways in which we choose to remember ourselves and our lives.
Charlie (Daniel McGlaughlin) has returned to his childhood home in order to put things in order following the death of his father, Da (John Cannon). Charlie has every intention of sorting through the necessary paperwork and immediately returning to the family and life he has built in London, but he finds himself plagued by more than just Da’s ghost as he recalls and appraises the sum of his life with his staunchly Irish parents. Charlie’s memories are colored with cynicism and frustration; he is incapable of understanding the way his father moved through life. Much of the comedy in Da comes from the titular character’s musings, often while he is seemingly oblivious to the dismayed reactions of others around him.
The lighting created by Andrew Cowles helps to distinguish between the real and the remembered, offering softer yellows during Charlie’s memories and casting harsh shadows while he interacts with his father’s ghost in the present time. The living room set is deliberately haphazard; not one piece of furniture matches anything else. It evokes feelings of your grandmother’s house with doilies draped over chair backs and homemade cross-stitch art on the walls. There are a few moments where present day props can take you out of the time in which the play is set, including a recent newspaper and a pack of cigarettes, but these moments are brief.
Through the course of the play we also meet Young Charlie (Oliver Donahue), his childhood friend Oliver (Lee Stover), his beleaguered (and now long-deceased) mother (Mary Pat Walsh), and his mentor Drumm (Mark Knight). These characters, while necessary to understand Charlie and how he became the man we see in the present, the highlights of the play come from his one-on-one interactions with Da. John Cannon is the heart and soul of this production, offering us not only some of the most delightful lines of the play, but also insight into the more complicated aspects of Da’s personality.
Charlie describes his father as someone who would thank a person for giving him a ride if they hit him with their car. But scenes like the one where he unabashedly barters a new suit for his son’s first job in exchange for grueling physical work or when he raises his hand in anger help us understand that his lackadaisical nature may not be all there is to him. Perhaps if Charlie had put in the effort, he could have had a better relationship with his father before he passed.
There are certainly some difficult moments in Da, but it is first and foremost a comedy. If you are interested in a play that will make you laugh by way of some of the darker humor many an Irish author has come to be known for, this Irish Heritage production is for you.
Da runs through March 23rd at Plays & Players Theatre on Delancey Street and tickets may be purchased online. Plays & Players is a historic building, which should be kept in mind when deciding on an outfit to carry you through Da‘s 2-hour running time. It can be chilly inside depending on the weather. And don’t forget to grab a drink at Quig’s Pub upstairs after the show!