What drives some people to snap, while others, no matter how buffeted by life, manage to carry on, incorporating whatever grief, rage or disappointment they feel into some semblance of ordinary existence? Who self-destructs? Who is destroyed? Who survives?
These are among the questions that drive Dublin-based playwright Deirdre Kinahan’s “Spinning,” the intense, feverishly rendered tale of a profoundly troubled, but by no means evil man, and the three women whose lives he changed forever. The play is now receiving its U.S. premiere in an emotionally raw Irish Theatre of Chicago production meticulously directed by Joanie Schultz. Leading her cast of four is Dan Waller — a small, wiry, hugely compelling actor who can ignite a stage with his feverishly concentrated passion. Waller uses his formidable ability to shift from an implosive to an explosive state of mind to riveting effect, capturing his character’s impotence and despair to perfection.
When: Through July 3
Where: Irish Theatre of Chicago at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $26 – $30
Run time: 75 minutes, with no intermission
Waller plays Conor, a thirtysomething man who has just spent four years in prison, and has returned to the small Irish town that was the scene of his crime. (This theme is not entirely dissimilar to one Kinahan explored in her play, “Moment,” produced several years ago by Steep Theatre.)
A ghostly, ravaged presence, he has come to see Susan (Jodi Kingsley in a beautifully limned portrayal), the single mother of an only child, Annie (Tyler Meredith, an ideal mix of naivete and daring), who was killed when she was just 17 while a passenger in the car he drove into the sea in a state of what he claims was temporary insanity (the charge is never specified). Conor’s arrival churns up Susan’s buried rage. But it also becomes an opportunity for her to probe more deeply into what really happened to her daughter, and, in the process, for us to track the sequence of events that unfolded over a period of about seven years, and that ultimately drove this man, always something of a ne’er-do-well, to finally crack.
As it happens, Annie was simply the willing, needy girl who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time and was craving some form of male attention. Conor’s real downfall began years earlier when he fell for Jen (Carolyn Kruse, who brings just the right blend of “Body Heat” sexiness and hard-edged control to her character). From the start, this insecure man and hot blonde who was then living with another man feel like an unlikely couple, with Jen perhaps briefly taken by Conor’s ardor. But other things about him — including his bond with his mother, and his overall lack of ambition — begin to grate, and are in stark contrast to her own desires. Nevertheless, they marry, she gives birth to a daughter, and then, almost immediately, begins to grow restless. She has no interest in having another child, and when Conor gives her a hard time about going back to work and spending extra hours at the office following a promotion, she realizes there is no future for them.
The demand for a divorce devastates Conor, who is informed that he will have to move out of their house and only see his daughter on weekends. And, as the post-divorce period proceeds, his anger at Jen only grows in ferocity. A man who feels he has lost everything, he plots his revenge, eventually absconding with his daughter to the small town where he has been chatted up by Annie, a lonely, inexperienced but sexually curious adolescent who has never known her father, and who is in desperate need of male attention. To his credit, Conor refuses to take advantage of her sexually, but he uses her in another way that proves even more catastrophic.
The play’s multiple time frames (enhanced by Grant Sabin’s poetic, haunted set and Cat Wilson’s lighting) aren’t always easy to track, and the calamitous event in “Spinning” remains a bit murky. But that might be what Kinahan was after here. After all, memory is an imperfect guide, especially when recalling what happened as things began to spin out of control.