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After a three-year absence, Inis Nua Theatre Company’s popular series Pop-Up Play in a Pub returns with the American premiere of 10 Dates with Mad Mary. Yasmine Akram’s characterful comedy goes down as smoothly as one of the perfectly poured pints at Fergie’s Pub.
The production represents something of a rebirth for the 17-year-old company. While still coming out of the hardships of the pandemic, their longtime artistic director, Tom Reing, stepped down earlier this year for health reasons. Veteran local director Kathryn “KC” MacMillan took the reins over the summer, but such a succession always raises questions about an outfit’s identity and stability.
Early signs suggest that Inis Nua is doing just fine. The capacity audience crammed into the second-floor space at Fergie’s is perhaps the most robust I’ve seen in the history of these series, and the crowd was treated to an engaging monologue that, while not entirely flawless, captured the ethos of the Edinburgh Fringe-style productions that the company has long emulated. The result felt somewhere between a theatrical performance and a happening.
Quest for the plus-one
Akram shows the complexities and stifling boredom of small-town Ireland through the eyes of Mad Mary McArdle (Anna Faye Lieberman), who finds herself back on the mean streets of Drogheda after a stint in county jail. Newly free, she has one goal: finding a suitable plus-one for her haughty cousin Charlene’s wedding. The play’s title alludes to a dating service that promises lightning-speed results but, predictably, delivers a string of dead fish.
Lieberman’s Mary narrates her way through each unfulfilling appointment, which include an ex-priest, a metrosexual who speaks little English, and a disastrous round of speed-dating. Akram intersperses these comedic encounters with tender moments, like Mary learning that racism derailed her grandmother’s relationship with a Black man in 1960s London. The warm interactions between Mary and her Nan help to soften a character who could otherwise come across as all rough elbows.
Along the way, Mary also meets David, a good-natured but somewhat enigmatic aspiring musician. Within the muck of her quest for a wedding date, he comes to represent the potential promise of a real partnership. Their budding courtship brings a dash of proper romantic comedy into the mix.
A blooming future
At 75 minutes, Akram’s script is twice as long as it needs to be, particularly when presented in the cramped confines of a bar’s anteroom. But Lieberman—a gifted comedic performer sporting a superb Irish brogue—keeps the audience from ever slipping into boredom. I guarantee that anyone in the audience would be pleased to spend an evening bar-hopping with Mad Mary, even if they knew it could possibly end in the clink.
In the past, I’ve left Pop-Up Play in a Pub performances praising Stargazy and Old Speckled Hen, if not the material itself. How nice it is to discover another hidden gem from the British Isles, and to see that in new hands, Inis Nua continues to build on its established, worthwhile mission. Like Mad Mary discovering the bloom of first love for herself, the company seems to be moving toward a confident future.
What, When, Where
10 Dates with Mad Mary. By Yasmine Akram, directed by Kathryn “KC” MacMillan. Inis Nua Theatre Company. Through November 6, 2022, at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. $30 (ticket price includes a meat or vegetarian pie and a drink). (215) 454-9776 or inisnuatheatre.org.
All remaining performances are currently sold out. Returns may become available.
Masks are not required during the performance.
The performance space in Fergie’s Pub is accessible only by stairs.
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