“Never try to work dry,” says one staff member on the New Yorker to Maeve Brennan on her entry to the prestigious publication. It’s a mantra they seem to live by in Talk of the Town, a new biopic play about the life of the Irish short-story writer in New York. Emma Donoghue of Room fame writes the script and Annabelle Comyn directs in a production of smoke and mirrors, the only dry thing about it being the martinis and the wit.
It’s a glamorous life the staff writers live, with the New Yorker picking up the tab, and we are whizzed around the jazzy bars with a great original score by Philip Stewart. Still her existence in New York seems sadly freelance.
“I have no home,” she says.
“I am a stranger in a city of perpetual strangers.”
Playing out interior scenes from her mined memories of childhood and Ireland in a separate playing space- the material for her stories come alive, but always the “same story” with the universal theme of human unhappiness. Comyn directs beautifully and shows us there is always still a young girl in the mirror, no matter how worldly the girl becomes.
It is an interesting biopic choice but as a play it falls into the usual pitfalls of plays about books or biographies: a certain lack of dramatic action, of all elements turning on the wheel of one churning core. However what it lacks in drama it makes up for in the use of the theatre, with zingy lines – sometimes too zingy – chic costumes (Peter O’Brien), an impressive split-level set and good performances. Catherine Walker is a beautiful Brennan, if slightly over wrought, and Lorcan Cranitch is brilliant in an understated role as her editor.
The anguish of the émigré writer’s process and psychology and the snippets of writing, the outcome of that struggle, leaves you wanting more- but more in the form of a collection of Brennan’s short stories, which will no doubt be revisited or indeed discovered by most after seeing this show.