The Belly Button Girl – The New Theatre – Review
By Diana Perez Garcia
The New Theatre – The Belly Button Girl – from 14– 18 May, 7.30
“What if we were the only real members of the audience tonight?” I shout at my companion trying to make myself audible over the loud chatter generated by an almost full house waiting for Tom Moran’s The Belly Button Girl to kick off. For a minute the buzz of the audience raising their voices seems rehearsed, as if they were actors and we their stooges in a carefully orchestrated immersive piece. It is the kind of loud cacophony that we generally associate with pubs or discos, cleverly provoked by two consecutive songs played in the background, one of them Enrique Iglesias’ master class in rhetorical questioning, “Hero”, a song that will be name checked in Moran’s piece later on.
And we may as well have been sitting amongst cleverly disguised cast members generating the right atmosphere for the purposes of the opening act of the show because when the room goes completely dark to then reveal the narrator played by Tom Moran, the author and sole performer of this piece, we find him attending his cousin Sharon’s twenty-first birthday party at the Dingle Parochial Hall on a Saturday night in October. There he is surrounded by the kind of alcohol-fuelled bacchanalia that can drive a bunch of lads to dance to the “crazy frog ringtone” and the aforementioned cousin to end up in a very public tryst with a massive lad whose visible “boner” seems to mock “how lonely” our narrator feels. The line sticks out (no pun intended) as a summary of Moran’s tone in the piece, one that walks the line between crudeness and tenderness in an effort to deliver what his author describes as a “tale of passion and heartbreak wrapped in a comedy”.
Romantic comedies abound and they may provoke a smile or two in their journey towards a proposal, but the comic romance, if we understand it as one that makes us laugh as well as stirring feelings of longing, heartbreak or nostalgia is a much harder nut to crack. Rummaging through my mind for a paradigm of what Moran attempts in The Belly Button Girl, I stumble upon Woody Allen’s blend of the comic and the bitter sweet, Annie Hall. I offer this as a measure of Moran’s commendable ambition as a writer and solo performer. The Belly Button Girl takes us through a year in the romantic life of our narrator, from depressed and lonely birthday party guest to nervous suitor and eventual lover of the girl that gives this piece its title.
Unfortunately, although his narrator professes to fall head over heels with the belly button girl, Moran does not fully manage to deliver a well-rounded character for the audience to also fall in love with. We understand that the narrator finds the girl beautiful because he uses this adjective to describe her in at least three separate occasions and he itemises her physical allure with reference to “freckles”, “dimples”, and a “tattoo of a bunch of grapes on her back” as well as “green eyes” that are also “complicated”. He finds her belly button so fascinating that it becomes her avatar and we never find out her real name. Elsewhere, he hints at her bravado and emotional confusion, but having devoted half of his running time to the courtship, he rushes through their time together, and barely offers a glimpse of the kind of experiences that make their love affair so important and memorable to him. The overall intention may be to suggest that she is elusive but the result is that she remains unknowable.
As a writer, Moran is capable of vivid observation, and there are flashes of psychological insight in his narrator’s commentary. He is also a talented actor who breathlessly delivers his monologue in a flawless performance without missing a beat. These talents emerge most clearly when he delineates secondary characters; in an amusing set piece in the male toilets at his cousin’s birthday, for example; or in a tragicomic encounter with a “Sambuca lady” moonlighting as Dingle’s local taxi driver. These moments give us a glimpse of Moran’s ability to fuse humanity and comedy in his writing. At one point in the piece, the narrator gets a ride with a Dublin taxi driver who enthusiastically tells him about him and his wife travelling the world following Ireland’s football team: “He sounded so happy even though his life seemed so shit to me”, the narrator muses. Ultimately, in spite of its performer’s obvious talent, The Belly Button Girl misses this simple lesson: love is often found in the minutiae of lives that may seem shit to others.
Running time: 1 hour approx. with no interval
Writer/Cast: Tom Moran
Director/Producer: Romana Testasecca
Set Design: Ursual McGinn
Lighting Design: Eoin Lennon