“Therapy” would have been a better title, but it’s been used. Playwright Enda Walsh goes instead with the more fashionably retro “Medicine” for his new play, which opened Tuesday at St. Ann’s Warehouse after its world premiere last year at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The unstable, surreal world of “Medicine” is familiar to any theatergoer familiar with the plays of Walsh, who also directs here: An everyman named John (Domhnall Gleeson, acting traumatized) enters an anonymous yet scuffed-up work place where a party has taken place. To emphasize the overall bleakness, there’s a “Congratulations” banner hanging overhead. Jamie Vartan’s set design also features a drum set, lots of audio equipment and what appears to be a sound booth upstage. All the world is a recording studio.
Soon, a woman designated as Mary 1 (Aoife Duffin) enters the room and attempts to detach, without much success, a Groucho Marx eyebrow from her face. Later, a woman wearing a red lobster costume and designated as Mary 2 (Clare Barrett) starts doing battle with a hanging ball in the sound booth. Or is it a sound booth? Although it features glass windows and appears to be soundproof, this booth functions more often in “Medicine” as a changing room for Mary 1 and Mary 2 when it’s not in use as a wind tunnel.
The audience at St. Ann’s Warehouse is encouraged to feel superior to the two female characters, thanks to Joan O’Clery’s costumes. The red lobster outfit is one thing, but underneath it, Mary 2 wears a “Wicked” t-shirt. Mary 1 wears a “Les Misérables” t-shirt.
Since Duffin is thin and Barrett is zaftig (have I used the correct word here?), they can be viewed, respectively, as the passive Stan Laurel and the aggressive Oliver Hardy. In addition to whacking Mary 1 physically, Mary 2 insists on calling herself an “actor” and her cohort a “technician.” They’re recording what appears to be a tape or radio play of John’s life despite occasionally donning costumes other than the lobster jumpsuit and t-shirts advertising stage musicals. The visuals also include the two women dancing while they lip synch to various pop tunes. It’s debatable which is more questionable: their taste in music or in Broadway shows.
Because it’s a Walsh play, all this zigzagging pop-culture nonsense is destined to climax in a cacophony of flashing lights (by Adam Silverman), ear-shattering sounds (by Helen Atkinson), drums-and-cymbal banging (by Sean Carpio) and incomprehensible screaming (by all three actors).
Walsh ends his play on a Disney-gooey note that has John making his choice between Laurel and Hardy.
“Medicine” is a Landmark Productions/Galway International Arts Festival co-production.