"Relax Miss Frost."
"I didn't want to do this. I know I didn't want to."
"Yes you did."
"I didn't. Please. I didn't"
Miss Frost turned away on her side, her body choked and sobbing
"Miss Frost. God is all merciful."
"But it's a mortal sin which I have to confess to the priest and its's adultery as well."
"Please now, Miss Frost. Take hold of yourself. This won't do any good."
"It's adultery."
"One mortal sin is the same as another."

- J.P. Donleavy from The Ginger Man

Photo by Damien Matthews
David Murray as Sebastian Dangerfield.
This article/review first appeared in The Gazette Montreal, July 7, 2000.

"Ginger Man tells of booze and passion"

by Pat Donnelly

If Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes didn't convince you that alcoholism is the plague of Ireland, J.P. Donleavy's play The Ginger Man will.

While The Ginger Man, adapted for the stage from Donleavy's 1955 novel of the same title, has been blasted for its pre-feminist point of view, women are more likely to enjoy it than men. It's a great reminder of how far we've come. Men, however, are unlikely to identify with Sebastian Dangerfield, a man who would rather see his child wasting away with the rickets than go without his pint - even if he does have a way with the women.

Today, Dangerfield's attitude to his wife and child is likely to be far more shocking that the work's once-notorious adultery scene or its unsparing criticism of parochial Irish society.

The Dublin Theatre Company production of The Ginger Man, which just arrived in Montreal via New York, is a milder version of the one that enraged the archbishop of Dublin in 1959. Director Ronan Wilmot has subdued the sex scene to the point of being remarkably chaste. Angry young men and kitchen-sink realism have been out of fashion for so long that we've almost forgotten the genre. The script has more poetry than motion. But the acting is detailed and passionate, taking a play too literate for its own good beyond itself. And the careful listener is richly rewarded.

There is no set to speak of, only a few scattered furnishing in front of a black curtain. The story is a gloomy one of broken hearts and failed ambitions. Dangerfield (David Murray) is an American married to a British woman studying law at Trinity College on a military scholarship after the war. His only friend, O'Keefe (Karl Hayden) another American student, is equally strapped for cash and desperate to find a woman. Dangerfield is a layabout counting on an inheritance to rescue him - soon. His wife, Marion (Julie Hale), can't help nagging him into a rage. When she finally leaves, with a little financial help from his family, he follows her, moves in, and drives her out again. This leads to his dalliance with her Irish Catholic boarder, Lily Frost (Fiana Toibin), and an acceleration of self-pity while we wait vainly for a voice from on high to thunder, "No Sebastian, it's not all about you."

As a Dangerfield with a volatile personality, Murray fits the bill nicely, always taut and threatening to snap. Hale plays her thankless wife role crisply, with studied lapses into shrill. Toibin's Frost melts gradually, with more kindness that lust. Hayden struggles admirably to convince us he's (a) American (b) incapable of getting a date.

Irish literature fans won't want to miss this one. Nor anyone seeking marriage-aversion therapy.

To purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to the Buyers' Guide.
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