Bullfight on Third Avenue – Bewley’s Theatre Café – Review
by Paddy McGovern
Until August 3rd 2019.
When an Irish theatre writer produces a play that is original, engaging and thoughtful, it is always a welcome event. Eddie Naughton’s new play, Bullfight on Third Avenue, is all of those things.
Tom Stoppard, Brian Friel and many other playwrights have imagined meetings between characters – from fiction or real life – and brought them to dramatic life. Naughton imagines the last meeting between the two American literary giants, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. What more fitting setting than a pub in New York, in this case an Irish one.
The play explores many intertwining themes: the challenges and difficulties of the writer’s life, the value of political commitment and the motivation of those who engage in it, and mistaken ideas of masculinity and sexual ambivalence. When the two writers engage in direct argument, the play comes to life. There is rivalry as well as respect. Insecurity leads to covert searches for reassurance from the other. Fitzgerald complains that Hemingway over praises his minor work so as to deflect critical attention from the greater. There is a tendency in places to overwrite the literary jousting and the seventy-minute playing time could well be cut to sixty without loss to the play. There are a few small inconsistencies such as a man who is stumbling drunk one minute, able to stand and run vigorously the next but such minor niggles don’t detract from the overall impression of a writer whose future work will deserve watching.
Director Karl Shiels has elicited strong performances from his cast: Ross Gaynor as Fitzgerald, Rex Ryan as Hemingway and Dave Duffy as the Irish barman. Gaynor’s Fitzgerald is already on a downward spiral, suave and elegant but deeply insecure. Duffy’s barman shuffles amiably, keeping the peace and displaying an improbable interest in – and knowledge of – matters literary. Inevitably the part is not as fleshed out as the other two, but some of the blather such as what his old Irish mammy always said, could head the list of bits to be cut. Rex Ryan is an exceptionally convincing Hemingway, the physical swagger, the slicked back hair, the slightly rasping vocals, always within character. It is an excellent performance.
Lisa Krugel’s set does just enough to evoke time and place perfectly, lighting is by Colm Maher and special mention should be made of the brilliantly chosen music. The play continues at Bewley’s Café Theatre daily, Monday to Saturday until August 3rd