Centered on an appealing and meandering relationship between odd couples and ingeniously infused with wider insights into Irish society, the play reflects on loss, resilience and the issue of abortion in a way that is both crisp and symphonic – qualities skillfully underscored in this timely staging of Solas Nua.
Director Rex Daugherty’s production is set against the simple but evocative set of set designer Nadir Bey, whose graffiti-scribbled surfaces and old-fashioned streetlight bulbs suggest an old town bubbling with modern passions. Maz (played by Emily Kester), an angry and traumatized young woman, adds to these passions when she attends a “Repeal the 8th” rally, opposing an amendment to the Irish constitution that effectively banned abortion. (The amendment was repealed in 2018.)
When Maz crosses paths with the flippant and mischievous Bricks (Jonathan Feuer), who isn’t interested in her cause, the encounter initially has a cute vibe. But as the two establish a rapport, sometimes joking and empathetic, sometimes fiercely arguing, the story deepens. Along the way, the record of the country’s abortion ban becomes increasingly clear.
This storyline could have veered too close to a political parable or registered as tricky, but Maz and Bricks are too idiosyncratic to sound like devices. Their distinctive character is revealed not only in the dialogues but also in the asides and monologues whose dynamism and verbal flair evoke spoken poetry. Whether interacting or riffing solo, the excellent actors of Solas Nua skillfully capitalize on both the specificity of their characters and the heightened language. Kester’s Maz, a rebellious figure with pink streaked hair, radiates hurt and brooding rage. Bricks, grieving but lively, of Feuer talks about wanting to converse with wasps (“I would be like…guys, why all this anger, this terrorism? Take a leaf from the book of bees and relax.”).
As if to underline the tumultuous emotions of the characters and the overheated atmosphere of the rally, the actors sometimes deploy stylized movements, including sudden isolations of the arms. (Ashleigh King is the choreographer and Daugherty the co-choreographer). The dance move works beautifully at the piece’s climax, expressing peril and cinematic sweep. But at other times, the stylized gestures are awkward.
The expressionist movement is certainly not necessary as a change of pace mechanism, since O’Connor’s screenplay offers such variety. In addition to their time at the protest, Maz and Bricks visit an upscale chocolate factory, hang out at a bar, and host a bachelorette party. Add flashbacks and this 80-minute piece opens up an impressive social view — one that illuminates its depiction of both a third-rail political issue and an unlikely relationship.
Maz & Bricks, by Eva O’Connor. Directed by Rex Daugherty; scenic design/technical director, Nadir Bey; lighting, Helen Garcia-Alton; sound, Gordon Nimmo-Smith; assistant producer/playwright/costume designer, Charlotte La Nasa. About 80 mins. Through June 26 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. solasnua.org.