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Review: THE SMUGGLER at Corrib Theatre

This production runs through May 22 at T.C. O’Leary’s Pub.

Review: THE SMUGGLER at Corrib Theatre

In America, the streets are paved with...moral compromises? Ronán Noone's THE SMUGGLER, now running at Corrib Theatre, tells the tale of an Irish immigrant's struggle to support his family. His journey takes him from bartender with dreams of being a writer into the sinister world of migrant smuggling. It's dark, harrowing, and disturbingly sympathetic.

The play is set in contemporary Massachusetts, where Tim Finnegan, an Irish-American, lives with his wife and newborn son in a falling-down shack with no running water. It's not just Tim who's down on his luck. The small town is struggling economically, and a recent car crash involving two young men has heightened tensions between the locals and newly arrived migrants. The only people who seem to be doing well, at least according to the talk in the bar, are those involved in making people disappear from one place and appear in another.

THE SMUGGLER tackles a lot - the immigrant experience, economic hardship, racial and class hierarchies, the circle of moral inclusion, what we owe to family, the corruption of power...it would be too much for any ordinary play, let alone a solo show. But Noone's script weaves the story beautifully. It's just Tim talking about his life, and whether you view him as the story's hero or its villain may depend on where you stand on the broader issues. It will also likely change throughout the play - perhaps several times.

The fact that this ordinary guy-turned-smuggler can remain so frustratingly sympathetic is due to the excellent performance by Tom O'Leary. Not only is this a solo show with a complex central character and several supporting characters (all with different accents), but it's written entirely in verse. O'Leary deftly balances these demands while also bringing out the play's dark humor, because, believe it or not, there are parts that are quite funny.

If there's a flaw in Corrib's production, it's the tendency toward over-dramatization, not on O'Leary's part but of the staging. The venue is a bar - T.C. O'Leary's Pub on Alberta - but the show is staged as if it's in a regular theatre. The result is O'Leary moving around a lot in cramped spaces that are sometimes far from the audience and other times practically in their laps. From where I was sitting, there were a lot of awkward sightlines. This is a personal story being told by a bartender, and I think it would have been better served by just putting him behind the bar and letting him talk. The play itself and O'Leary's performance are good enough to engage the audience without all of the running around.

THE SMUGGLER runs through May 22 at T.C. O'Leary's Pub. For the best view, sit toward the back of the venue (off the end of the bar). More details and tickets here: https://corribtheatre.org/the-smuggler/

Photo credit: Adam Liberman



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