A few years ago, Inis Nua’s production of Dublin by Lamplight helped put this Philadelphia company on the map; it later traveled to New York. If you missed those engagements (and I did, too), book tickets immediately to this revival. You will see no more delightful show, nor a better lesson in stagecraft, this season.
I could try to summarize — say something about how Dublin by Lamplight is a metatheatrical parody of 19th Century melodrama, set amidst the creation of the Irish National Theater — but it wouldn’t begin to convey its sly, complex pleasures.
For starters, Dublin by Lamplight is as much a music hall piece as a play. Cast member John Lionarons, who composed the evocative score which riffs cleverly on Victorian parlor ballads, plays the piano throughout, and there are several songs. There’s a plot, too — or five, or ten, full of winking humor, but also heart. Try to imagine a mash-up of Sweeney Todd, The Plough and the Stars, and Noises Off, and you’ll have some idea of the tone.
What might be most striking is the performative style. Spectacular theatrical make-up (designed by Maggie Baker, who also did the marvelous costumes) sets the tone for a piece that also draws in a kind of Brechtian (or at least, Harold Prince-ian) level of bravura delivery.
As you might imagine from the above, Dublin by Lamplight is, to put it mildly, a challenge for actors. It seems audacious, even fool-hardy, that director Tom Reing (reviving the show he directed in 2011) joins forces here with the Mandell Project at Drexel University. Two of the actors — Michael Dees and Rachel Brodeur — are professionals; the rest are students. The result is a rousing success.
Dees and Brodeur project a sense of stage authority; he in particular is astonishingly accomplished in his droll personae, changing characters with immense panache (every actor plays multiple roles). She’s excellent, too — equal parts flirt and fishwife.
And the four students more than hold their own, each bringing something special. Drew Sipos is loveably forlorn; Marlyn Logue is breathily girlish; Jacob Kemp finds the emotional center of the most troubled character; and graceful, rubber-limbed Joey Teti is the most virtuosic performer of all. Dublin by Lamplight is also handsomely designed and produced.
When everything comes together at this level, it’s a real tribute to the director. I’ve admired Tom Reing’s work for years, and this finds him at the top of his game. We Philadelphians are so fortunate to have him — and Inis Nua — in our community.
Dublin by Lamplight plays through November 20. For more information, visit the Inis Nua Theatre website.