ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — James Caputo is a very talented playwright, winner of many awards, including the Audience Choice Award for his short play “Amy’s Wish,” which appeared at Fusion Theatre several years ago. Last year, Fusion produced a staged reading of his adroitly crafted and very funny comedy, “The Mystery of Ballydonal,” and this year the play is receiving a fully staged production.
Although Caputo is an American playwright, “The Miracle of Ballydonal” is an Irish comedy in the manner of Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson. At the same time, the play follows the classical model of comedy: A couple seek to marry, but there is an obstacle to overcome (technically this is called the “blocking agent;” usually, as in this case, a parent). A clever servant (in this case, a servant of the Lord) outwits the obstructive parent and the couple marry and live happily ever after. That is the form of virtually every classical comedy.
The action takes place in a small pub in a remote Irish village on Christmas Eve. Finn Begone McDonal is an alcoholic who fancies he has a poetic soul, occasionally remarking that his utterances are so poetic he should write them down. He resembles the malaprop-spouting buffoon of classical comedy; that is to say, he thinks too highly of himself and is always using the wrong word: for instance, “semaphore” for “metaphor” and “mathematrician” for “mathematician.” Finn has a rivalry with Saintjack MacDonal, who really does have a poetic soul, or at least a deeply spiritual nature. However, this sensitivity leaves him open to doubts about his sexuality, as well as the taunts of Finn.
A third male figure is One Shot, who is in love with Eileen but unable to marry her because his last name is not McDonal or MacDonal or some other variation on the name Donal, which Eileen’s father insists as requisite to obtaining his daughter’s hand in marriage.
What makes this play so good is the linguistic ability of the playwright, who truly does possess Irish eloquence, especially the turns of phrase that elicit boisterous laughter in the audience. But a good play is worthless without a strong cast to bring it to life. Bruce Holmes is excellent as Finn, perfectly capturing the timidity behind the bluster (he is afraid to enter the women’s washroom because people might think him less than a man if they were ever to find out). William Sterchi is superb as the sensitive Saintjack, the clever savior of the frustrated couple. And Ross Kelly and Jacqueline Reid are terrific as the couple in love, frustrated from cementing their bond in holy matrimony.
Directors Charlie Clute and Frederick Franklin have replaced the usual seats with tables in the theater, so the audience actually seems to be within the confines of the pub eavesdropping on the action.
If you are looking for an alternative to the usual holiday entertainment, the somewhat irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny “Miracle of Ballydonal” is for you.
“The Miracle of Ballydonal” is playing at The Cell, 700 First NW, Albuquerque, with a small number of performances at other venues. Go to fusionnm.org or call 766-9412 for reservations.