Reviewed by Julia Weingaertner.
A biting dark comedy from David Ireland, Ulster American pulls its audience to the brink of discomfort from its opening lines and leaves it teetering throughout. With barely a moment of respite, its characters’ personal conflicts pulse with both transnational and gender tensions. The text is grounded and pertinent, and the performances commendable.
Set over the span of one evening, the story follows Jay, a larger than life American actor (played with almost infuriating energy and lasciviousness by Darrel D’Silva) hired to play a Catholic nationalist in Northern Ireland in a new West End play. His tensions with the work’s feisty playwright, played by Lucianne McEvoy, are central to the conflict of the work. Similar to Ireland’s other renowned work, Cyprus Avenue, it is perhaps questionable that the story revolves around a controversial white man when minority perspectives remain rare on stage. However, Ulster American is without a doubt an interesting commentary on post-MeToo, attitudes and the fakery of such powerful men hiding behind phony liberalism. One particular scene in which Jay and the play’s middle-aged white male director discuss the Bechdel test comes to mind. The two noisily speak over each other, mansplaining the feminist theory; Jay even insists that "Bechdel was a man". Each has adopted the lingo of the popular movement without taking its messages to heart, thereby remaining as flawed as their more outwardly sexist predecessors.
Although Ireland’s narrative at times veers towards the absurd, I found myself baffled at how he managed to capture almost word for word frustrating conversations I have been privy to within the past two weeks. It captures the strange contradictions within a world beginning to recognise longstanding corruption within itself while perpetrators refuse to acknowledge their proximity to the issue. The production is not without its fair share of uncomfortable laughs, some of which a little too uncomfortable for my personal taste, but it remains a relevant and aptly depicted social commentary.
Ulster American runs at the Traverse Theatre until Saturday 2nd March 2019.