Just as Irish novelist Flann O'Brien out-Joyced
O'Brien himself appears as a character — albeit as Myles na Gopaleen, one of several monikers adopted by the man who was christened Brian O'Nolan. So does British poet John Betjeman, along with his teddy bear that provided the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte's Aloysius in Evelyn Waugh's "
Funny thing is, just as Joyce, Lenin, and Dadaist Tristan Tzara were all in Zurich during
There he tries to untangle a web of deceptions that, in addition to the aforementioned luminaries, involves the IRA, a reedy-voiced radio announcer who may be transmitting secret messages to the Germans despite Ireland's official neutrality, a sultry fellow secret agent, and a rosy
A hit in 2004 at the Dublin Theatre Festival, Riordan's piece features an infectious Celtic/pop score by Bell Helicopter (aka. Conor Kelly and Sam Park), performed live in director Kyle Hamman's production by a sterling four-piece band under the inspired musical direction of Mike Przygoda. Ranging from barroom ditties to electronica, the songs indulge in the same over-the-top wordplay that drives a great deal of Riordan's script. (It's obvious that he's spent a lot of time with O'Brien's novels, where goony quasi-scientific footnotes and alternative realities run amok.) A song in the first act, "Be Careful Not to Patronize the Irish," manages to name-check just about every stereotype in the book about Emerald Isle denizens, while also underscoring the fragile relationships between the Irish and English during the war that the former referred to as "The Emergency."
Granted, this sort of self-conscious smarty-pants display of linguistic brio sometimes plays better on the page than the stage, and Hamman's staging in the low-ceilinged Strawdog space, despite a clever flexible set by Joanna Iwanicka, sometimes feels trapped in the layers-upon-layers of cultural references and cross-references. But the cast, all of whom except the admirably understated Dailey play multiple roles, deliver delicious silly-putty portrayals.
Jason Grimm nails both the fey Betjeman and the quavery announcer, and Scott Danielson provides comic heft for Myles and Muldoon, the IRA thug. Christina Hall and Sarah Goeden offer two sides of feminine wiles as sex-bomb Agent Green and fresh-faced Philomena. Though Riordan's story may appeal most strongly to O'Brien fans (which I most decidedly am), I suspect that the performances here will grow more assured over the run.
As it is, "Improbable Frequency" more often than not provides a welcome blast of high-brow gooniness to melt the late-winter blahs.
When: Through March 31
Where: Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes