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There are some forceful
moments in Duck, a play about the rough life lived by teenage girls in
contemporary Dublin. It begins with a literal bang, the explosion of an expensive jeep by
one Catherine Lynch (Ruth Negga), nineteen year-old girlfriend of loutish nightclub owner
and drug dealer Mark (Karl Shiels). It is his jeep that Cat has demolished, drunk and
spiteful. She and pal Sophie (Elaine Symons) stagger down the street, and are almost
immediately set upon by two behooded youths who attempt to rape them. Sophie repels the
attack with a broken bottle, but not before suffering a broken nose. It is not a pretty
picture, but it makes a point.
The world of Duck is like a slightly more benign and
definitely more feminine version than that of Mark ORowe (Crestfall): a world steeped in endemic
violence which characters are trapped by a seeming unwillingness to transcend it.
Transcendence is at issue though, as the story consciously revolves around Cats
attempts to find a way to escape. She searches for love, but her gruff exterior, though
necessary for survival, may give the wrong idea about who she really is. In a
confrontation with Sophie, who is going to college to better herself, Cat
retorts to her friends attempts to psychoanalyze her: "Whos asking you?
Listen, I came across my dads pay slip and guess what? Im earning nearly as
much as he is. I get cash into my hand, rob a bit from the orange juice money, Make a bit
on tips, And I enjoy it as well. I meet lots of different people. I get a lot of
attention. Listen, when me and Mark walk into a club We get a table. Do you understand?
Im not going anywhere till I know what Im doing."
And what is she doing? Well, Feehily would have us believe she is
preparing for flight: getting ready to spread her wings and leave behind a world of
limitation. The drama is underlaid with avian metaphors. Not only is there the title
(derived from Marks nickname for Cat, whose feet he thinks are unusually large),
Sophie is called Gull by her embittered mother (among other things). The
finale also explicitly refers to taking flight, though the future for these characters is
far from certain.
There is much in Duck which points to a future for Feehily. It
is her first full-length play and suffers from some of the obvious flaws of a debut. That
said, the play resonates with a vulgar eloquence which could be refined into an effective
dramatic voice given time. She writes good dialogue. It flows from the page and the
performers easily create a believable and dynamic linguistic world. There are also a
number of strong dramatic scenes and a few pointed observations about the delicate
balancing game played by a character like Cat in a world where it is all too easy to get
hurt. The characterization is a little loose though, and doesnt always pay off.
Sometimes it is obvious that the playwright is pulling the characters strings,
contributing to a slight sense of contrivance.
The play reaches its highpoint with a series of scenes set in a series
of baths where, as vulnerable as can be, naked and with her back to each of the two men in
her life in turn (Mark and an elderly writer portrayed by Tony Rohr for whom she has
temporarily fallen), Cats needs are truly revealed. In the third scene she recovers
from the second, where she has been attacked and nearly drowned. When she steps out of the
tub and stands naked before the audience, the character has literally been stripped bare.
Curiously enough, it is here that it begins to go awry. The play takes
an unwise plunge into Cats family life, revealing her cliched, country parents
(whose accents are impossibly strong to have produced a nineteen year old daughter with
such a strong Dublin manner). In an embarrassing series of encounters, the play clumsily
tries to add perspective and depth, only to wallow in amateurish and obvious caricature.
Casting also creates a new problem here. Negga has stood out throughout not only because
her character is the center of the drama, but because the actress is dark skinned. Her
otherness (purely the result of casting) actually gives a greater dynamism to
the drama, throwing her relationships into even greater relief by underlying her
exoticism in this setting. Unfortunately, the introduction of this rural
family with no reference to race whatsoever is unsettling, and no amount of suspension of
disbelief can overcome the twin demons of accent and skin color which become points of
The play comes back into focus for its climactic confrontation between
Mark and the writer, but then closes out again with an awkward segue into Sophies
home life, which was introduced earlier then abandoned. Structure seems to be the issue
here, and it is just as well that the performers bring a good deal of conviction to their
roles. Negga manages to pull a consistent characterization out of something of a
psychological muddle, and Symons likewise succeeds in making a not altogether convincing
character believable. Shiels is strong in a role which borders on one-dimensional, but he
plays his part in the drama as written in all senses of the word. His final speech to Cat
to the effect that "Were no different. You just dont know it yet" is
intriguing, and, again, played with force, but it doesnt necessarily put quite the
cap on things that might have been hoped for.
Dublin, October 7,