“This Beautiful Virtual Village” Turns Ugly with Infighting—Streaming Abbey Theatre
Lisa Tierney-Keogh Depicts Sharp Irish Debates on Gender & Race
by Patricia L. Morin
In Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s “This Beautiful Virtual Village,” six feisty members of a residents’ association outside Dublin make Zoom their stage. Malvina Reynolds’ song “Little Boxes” plays in the background.
All the members have opinions on the obscene, sexist slur that suddenly appeared on a neighborhood wall. As we become part of their emergency online meeting, I found myself more involved with the interactions of the characters in their little boxes than their debates.
The atmosphere turns tense, and the language terse as soon as the issue of vandalism is raised.
Impassioned Liz (tough Amy Conroy), an interior designer and out-front lesbian, is offended by the scribbled graffiti: “Jessica is a filthy, f’in slut.” Liz says it’s directed at her wife: “It’s a sexist slur… it’s power…and misogyny.” Liz wants to confront the offender in person—so do we.
Versatile Luke Griffin pushes all our buttons playing Paul, a believable anti-feminist, white supremacist character. Macho Paul, an out-of-work screen writer, attacks feminism and liberal ideals. He opposes Liz’s anger with insults and innuendoes, asserting, “Feminism erodes masculinity.” In the village meeting, Paul epitomizes a weak male ego, attacking what he fears.
Liz and Paul battle with verbal venom. While Liz throws food, Paul subjects the group to a lewd act. Director David Horan artfully shifts Zoom boxes to highlight their unfiltered conflict.
Conroy makes Liz an admirable champion, fighting for gender parity. She empowers Liz with steadfast convictions we can admire and follow. While some women still choose silence as their defense, Liz reminds us that sexist vandalism “is a declaration of hatred for the female gender.”
Griffin’s Paul ferociously counters, “Men are constantly penalized by women!” exposing his weakness.
Screen-named “#BLM,” super-sensitive Dara (Michael Ford-Fitzgerald) patronizes women with his support. Dara reminds the group they need to “share kindness,” steering the conversation by incessantly praising his home-made lasagna. Patronizing Dara combines comic relief with persistent annoyance.
Older Phil (placid Steve Blount) and Maggie (apathetic Pom Boy) vote to paint over the slur—make like it never happened. They opt for a security camera—their pathetic, remote solution.
Black medical doctor Gracie (grounded Bethan Mary James) arrives exhausted, after working with Covid patients all day; she handles the group with aplomb. But when the camera is suggested, she questions if police would choose to focus on Black villagers—like her younger brother.
During the BLM movement and worldwide protests, Tierney-Keogh could give more life to Black Lives Matter—especially with Dara using #BLM as his nameplate. When “Village” adds Gracie, a Covid first responder and a Black M.D., without exploring the raging pandemic, I feel the absence of her character development.
As tempers rise and wane, the discourse becomes redundant. We ask ourselves: Where is this play going? With every new point/counterpoint, no one has been prodded out of their stereotypical “little box.”
The actors portray their characters with spot-on precision, empathy, and wit, with sharply-etched views and opinions —all in lovely Irish brogues.
“This Beautiful Virtual Village” reminds us that we need to venture out of our comfy boxes, expand our views, and be tolerant. Well worth seeing.
“This Beautiful Virtual Village” by Lisa Tierney-Keogh, directed by David Horan, by Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Ireland—Streaming at: AbbeyTheatre.com, through September 17, 2020.
Cast: Steve Blount, Pom Boy, Amy Conroy, Michael Ford-Fitzgerald, Luke Griffin, and Bethan Mary James.
Banner photo: Steve Blount, Bethan Mary James, Luke Griffin, and Amy Conroy.