“War,” according to its hype, is a feisty comedy about war, but it’s no “M*A*S*H.” And it isn’t about war. In fact, it isn’t even a comedy. It’s a series of angry tirades set in an Irish pub. (But it isn’t “The Iceman Cometh,” either.)
“War” consists of 16 people all talking at the same time and making a helluva lot of noise while they compete in an endless trivia contest and hurl expletives and abuse at each other. And in between, the primary abuser, George, (Tim Cummings) goes home and bullies his wife. He is a viciously angry man, but fortunately the scenes in his kitchen are largely unintelligible — whether due to the placement of the kitchen upstage right, above the pub set, or bad acoustics, or just bad delivery is hard to determine. To give the actors the benefit of the doubt, I’ll say it’s bad acoustics because none of the six women in the play is understandable, no matter where they stand to deliver their lines.
Another deterrent to understanding the dialog is the uncertain Irish brogues that flash on and off throughout the performance.
As for the trivia contest itself, that might at least have been an engaging diversion for the audience if any of the 50 questions made any sense to American theatergoers. Instead, they deal with obscure Irish soccer players, a 50-year-old British scandal (who was the second woman in the Profumo-Keeler affair?), and various musical “stars” nobody ever heard of.
In addition to Cummings, who actually does a good job with his loathsome character, Andrew Leman must be credited with bringing the quizmaster to witty and sparkling life.
Roddy Doyle, who wrote this play in 1989, is a well-respected Irish author; he has written numerous short stories for The New Yorker and won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1993 for “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.” “War,” however, is not a ha ha ha.
Director Sean Branney manages his large cast imaginatively, using the center aisle of the theater for exits and entrances and the lobby beyond, which is presumably filled with additional tables of trivia players. (The quizmaster periodically shouts out to them, and the waitress chases back and forth collecting their answers after each round and delivering fresh bottles of Guinness.)
In the end, all the passion fades as each winning player goes home with his prize: a new electric teakettle. And George, presumably, goes home to bully his wife some more.
Is this what it’s all about, Alfie?
This production of “War” plays in repertory with John B. Keane’s pub play “The Field,” Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 12 at The Banshee, 3435 West Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank. Call (818) 846-5323 for tickets and schedule information.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.