Winner: Back Stage West Garland Award for Best Ensemble
Nominated Best Ensemble Performance - Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle
Nominated Best Featured Performance: Barry Lynch - Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle
Reviewplays.com Best of List 2006 - Best Performance: Dan Harper
2 Honorable Mentions: Back Stage West for Best Production
2 Honorable Mentions: Back Stage West for Best Direction (Sean Branney)
2 Honorable Mentions: Back Stage West for Best Performance (Barry Lynch)
Reviews for Theatre Banshee's Dockers
Justice for Irish working class
"Dockers," a play about labor violations and human struggles in 1960s Belfast, spotlights those who courageously fought for reforms.
Sure, the characters and plot lines are a wee bit familiar: a dedicated idealist, bravely fighting the system; the local drunk, always chiseling a few shillings for a glass of wine; a young lad, barely a man himself, who's gotten his young lass pregnant and just has to get that job; singing a fine old song in the neighborhood pub. But "Dockers," now receiving a spirited U.S. premiere by Theatre Banshee at the new Banshee space (formerly the Gene Bua), brims with noisy, truculent life, even as it leans on some well-worn Irish tropes .
In 1962, a decade before "the Troubles" began, life for a Belfast dockworker was as circumscribed as the Mafia's. No work unless you're in the union, and no new union memberships unless someone's just died. Lucky enough to get in? Well, best to keep quiet about the rampant safety violations, nepotism and humiliating working conditions. Enter John Graham (Dan Harper), determined to change things on the waterfront. But who's ready to concede power for a bother like justice?
Martin Lynch's play celebrates his homeland's linguistic exuberance and indefatigable sense of community, but wrenchingly exposes the false virtue of enduring the status quo with a prayer and a pint. "It's the same story in Ireland," one of the characters grumbles. "Socialism versus the saints."
On Arthur McBride's appropriately shabby set, the characters stew, cajole and clamor. Sean Branney's brisk direction sparks some colorful performances, including Lisa Dobbyn, who transcends the stereotype of the faithful working-class wife; Jim Krestalude as a quietly menacing union boss; and Barry Lynch as an over-cranked sot who can't bear what he sees when he's sober.
Harper's John Graham doesn't quite tap into his character's restless search for reform, but the play still makes its impassioned point. The workingman in 1962 or 2006 sells his labor, not to mention his dignity, for far too low a price. And that's something a bottle of stout and a bit of singing won't make go away.
Theatre Banshee has built a reputation for presenting theatre that is notches above the average, so it’s no surprise that the latest offering is equal to the best in their illustrious repertory. Now that Banshee has its own space (the former Gene Bua Acting for Life Theatre) it will no doubt invigorate what is already one of the most exciting companies in the city.
Martin Lynch wrote Dockers several years ago depicting an era where friction and controversy threatened the livelihood of Irish dock workers in their fight for decent wages and safe working conditions. The place is Belfast, the time is 1962 and the workers fight and compete for day jobs that are doled out at the whim of the dock boss and the union leaders. Union members get first choice, but the bosses seldom open the books to admit new members and when they do, it’s only for their advantage. To add to the tension, there is the nagging issue of Catholics against Protestants thrown in the mix.
When John Graham gets elected to a union office, he hopes to make a difference by improving the conditions of the workers (the dockers) but instead finds himself in the middle of generational issues and inflexible leaders. His immediate circle includes Leg McNamara, who has a bad leg as a result of a work accident and now seldom works; Leg’s two sons, Danny-boy and Hughie, who are hoping to join the union, and then there’s Buckets McGuinness, a man who would rather spend the day drinking than working and who owes money to almost every loan shark within earshot.
There’s also Jack Henry, union boss and Harry McKibben, the strong arm enforcer for Jack. These "old timers" are not timid about using force, and make it clear they are not about to change or even consider John Graham’s ideas. Even though they agree with John, the workers around him are too afraid to back him for fear of their jobs. A dock accident pushes John to bring the incident to the main union office, creating a rift between him and the local bosses.
On the day of the Workers’ Day parade, an apparent truce between Jack Henry and John Graham brings everyone to Barney's pub, the usual hangout for everyone after work. The camaraderie comes to a crashing halt when John insists on singing a workmen’s song. The bosses consider it Communistic and incendiary, and take violent steps to make sure John understands their feelings.
In spite of John’s apparent defeat, it becomes clear that his determination and courage has made a small crack in the corrupt union shell, and the bosses realize that their rule may be facing an end.
Director Sean Branney handles the huge cast with wonderful precision on a stage that is a marvel of ingenuity and creativity. Set designer Arthur McBride has created a fluid area where a movable wall creates a pub, a waterfront dock and a living room, all in a matter of seconds.
With a commitment that borders compulsion, the extraordinary cast embodies the inhabitants and the spirit of the era. Their performance is so vivid you believe you are part of the group, rising and falling with each little triumph and each disappointment. Dan Harper leads the group, rivaling his compelling work in The Man From Clare, another Irish unsung hero. Here Harper makes John Graham a noble, if stubborn, dreamer who pushes too far to make his point.
Barry Lynch almost steals the show as Buckets, the drunken ne’er-do-well who is a mere echo of his former self. His philosophical ramblings keep the audience laughing "If work was good the rich would be doing it", and his illogical con games manage to fleece Mrs. Montague of a few pounds to keep him in pints.
Rebecca Marcotte plays the well-off society lady who enjoys spending time at Barney’s and gets easily confused by the wiley Buckets.
Jim Krestalude and Michael Harrity have a frightening air about them as they muscle their power over the men playing Jack Henry and Harry McKibben, corrupt union thugs intent on stopping John Graham. Lisa Dobbyn plays John’s wife who eventually understands his zeal and vows to help him reach his goals.
Josh Thoemke is also great as the older McNamara brother who fancies himself an Elvis type ladies man, always making sure his hair is combed and in place even as he offers to fight for his friend John.
Other cast members include Seth Compton as Danny-boy, Melissa Jones as Mary-Ann McKeon, David Pavao as Barney, John McKenna as Leg, and Noah Wagner as Jimmy Sweeney, the dock foreman.
The overall result is a gripping tale that pits greed and power against decency and honor. As usual, the struggle is one-sided, with the darker powers seemingly in total control as the good guys seem to have an upward struggle. But author Lynch shows that when there is determination, a small step forward will eventually bring larger strides, although the cost may be great and the resolution may take longer than some people are willing to give.
Elia Kazan’s film On the Waterfront examined corruption on the docks in the United States and produced a heroic drama that celebrated the courage of the little man who fights back. Playwright Martin Lynch, himself the son of a Belfast longshoreman, deals with a similar subject, but he sounds a less triumphant note.
Set in Belfast in 1962, Dockers centers on the desperate efforts of Catholic waterfront workers to earn a decent living. Union activist John Graham (Dan Harper) seeks to fight corruption and create fair working conditions, but the odds are against him. Union officers (Michael Harrity and Jim Krestalude) are in cahoots with the management foreman (Noah Wagner). They stifle change and dissent by strictly limiting the admission of youngerand potentially more activistworkers. And, unlike Graham, they’re not reluctant to resort to violence. Graham’s wife (Lisa Dobbyn), though she protests the dangers in the situation, stands by her man.
Life on the docks may be bleak, but it’s also lively, and Lynch paints a broad canvas, full of rich, affectionately observed characters. Most notable is that staple figure of Irish comedy: the loud-talking, hard-drinking layabout, Buckets McGuinness (Barry Lynch) is always out to cadge a free drink from the bartender (David Pavao) or con the Protestant moneylender (Rebecca Marcottew) into “loaning” him drinking money. An older worker, Leg McNamara (John McKenna), won’t support Graham’s reform effort because he’s a believer in “going along to get along.” And McNamara’s son (Josh Thoemke) is an Elvis wannabe and ardent jive dancer.
Director Sean Branney serves the play faithfully, relying on songs and dance to enliven the proceedings. His production is top-notch, and his actors provide a gallery of finely etched characters. Fans of Irish theatre will probably love it, but others may question the relevance of a play about union skullduggery in Ireland 40-odd years ago. Corruption is always with us, and fighting it is always a struggle, but the play doesn’t tell us much that’s new.
The place is Belfast, Ireland, the year 1962, about a decade before the IRA and the British began fighting. The Catholics and the Protestants lived pretty much separated socially and economically. Things were pretty much tranquil in Northern Ireland at that time. The fishing docks attracted longshoremen vying for whatever work was available. Unions materialized to help solve any problems, and set up procedures to treat the workers fairly; only problem was that the unions were as crooked as businesses and government. It was hard for a man to put food on the table.
A dozen or so very fine actors come together to tell a story which we’ve heard before, perhaps a few times. It’s a historical tale of the plight of the workingman in Ireland. Even though familiar with the premise, we are hooked, once again, within the first few minutes. As the heavy accented language settles to a calming lilt or boisterous roar, things becomes understandable and the story unfolds. It tells of families and friends and neighbors in this small coast town.
One of the town’s inhabitants is a widowed man, Leg McNamara (John McKenna). He is the most recent man to be made union member. He is an honest bloke who tries to get things changed on the docks. Leg has two sons: the elder, Hughie (Josh Thoemke), and the younger, Danny-Boy (Seth Compton). Danny-boy is in love with a sweet lass, and no surprise, he’s gotten his fiancée pregnant. They now have to move up their wedding date. He must get into the union to support his coming family. You can’t work if you’re not in the union and you can’t get into the union unless the books are open with space, and your Da belongs.
Barney (David Pavao) owns the local pub where folks come to throwback a few. John and Theresa Graham (Dan Harper and Lisa Dobbyn) are a couple with different outlooks for their lives. John sees himself always on the docks, and Theresa, a waitress, sees them moving to the city and getting good jobs. They are close friends with Hughie. One cute bit is Hughie continually recombing his greasy hair into a ducktail. He bristles the minute anyone touches it or musses it up. Sarah Montague (Rebecca Marcotte) is a woman of means and spends her days with gal pal Mary-Anne McKeown (Melissa Jones) sippin’ some libations. Buckets McGuinness (Barry Lynch) is the village drunk that is always conning people out of a few shillings, especially Mrs. Montague. On the dark side are the union bosses and enforcers (Noah Wagner, Jim Krestalude and Michael Harrity).
Playwright Martin Lynch comes to this play with the perfect prospective as the son of a Belfast docker. His characters all ring true, as well as being interesting and fully developed folks. Each little sub plot holds interest. Sean Branney’s direction is sweeping in such a small space, sweeping in the depth of the drama and the freeness of the humor. The cast of a dozen players is uniformly marvelous. Standouts abound in numbers too many to name. Performances alone would make this show a must see! The cleverly, unfolding sets by Arthur MacBride also broadens the scope of the piece. It makes the stage seem much larger than it really is. Mary O’Sullivan (lights), Laura Brody (costumes) and Fanny McInerry (sound) complete the fine design team.
Congrats to Theatre Banshee, a marvelous producing entity, who is just now settling into its new digs, the former Gene Bua Theatre.
Reviewed by Dave DePino ~ Park LaBrea News / Beverly Press
Reccomended - "GO"
Set on the waterfront of Dublin in 1962, Martin Lynch’s play looks at dock workers challenging a corrupt union. Shop steward John Graham (Dan Harper) wants better treatment for the laborers, which puts him in conflict with crooked union officials (Michael Harrity and Jim Krestalude) who want to maintain the status quo. Graham wants to open the union to new men and change how jobs are distributed: Foreman Jimmy Sweeney (Noah Wagner) abuses his power by playing favorites when assigning jobs to the men who crowd the docks where there’s not enough work to go around. Although some of the accents are a bit spotty, Sean Branney’s concise direction keeps the action moving at a brisk clip on Arthur MacBride’s versatile set. As Buckets McGuinness, Barry Lynch puts in an amusing performance as a loud-mouthed drunk.
Reviewed by Reviewed by Sandra Ross ~ LA Weekly
Dockers. Not the slacks, but the men who worked on the Belfast docks in 1962 are the subject of Martin Lynch’s 1981 play. A new union committee member (Dan Harper) tries to institute reforms. In Sean Branney’s U.S. premiere, it’s a battle between authentic performances and passages of the script that sound didactic and schematic.