Jimmy Murphy’s 1999 play, “The Muesli Belt,” now in its American premiere at Theatre Banshee, deals with the rampant gentrification of an inner-city Dublin neighborhood.
Of course, in Ireland as in much of the world, boom times led to a global bust, with the bloodily declawed Celtic Tiger left scrabbling on a mountain of debt.
In light of those developments, Murphy’s themes now seem dated, and although director Sean Branney elicits lovely performances from his cast, the moral quandaries in the play seem mere niceties, unbalanced by the march of time.
Matt Foyer, doubling in the role with John McKenna, plays Mick, who has just unloaded his dilapidated pub to unscrupulous local developer Mossy (Andrew Graves, doubling with Andrew Leman). Mick’s barmaid, Sinéad (Lisa Dobbyn), is a practical girl who always has her eye on the main chance – and after Mick’s windfall, that chance is Mick.
But for Nora (particularly excellent Kathleen M. Darcy), a hard-drinking hairdresser who owns the run-down salon next door, and Tommy (Ian Patrick Williams), Mick’s longtime tenant, the deal spells catastrophe.
The fact that both Nora and Tommy have their own ample opportunities and resources makes them seem a bit dog-in-the-manger. And while Mick is agonizing over letting go of his pub – beautifully realized in Arthur MacBride’s funky-cozy scenic design -- our foreknowledge that the property soon won’t be worth a tinker’s dam colors our emotional responses in ways the playwright could not have anticipated.
Yet despite the play’s shortcomings, Branney and his tightknit ensemble keenly evoke a period of bygone possibility -- just before the tipping point.
“The Muesli Belt,” Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 2. $20. (818) 846-5323. www.theatrebanshee.org. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.