If a one-man play written in rhyming verse doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you might be pleasantly surprised by Urbanite Theatre’s current production of The Smuggler. In the hands of playwright Ronan Noone, director Brendan Ragan and actor Giles Davies, this look at different aspects of the immigrant experience in America is clever, entertaining and even thought-provoking.
That description of “the immigrant experience” might sound a bit more weighty than it should. Specifically, what comes out of Tim Finnegan’s mouth (in the person of Davies) begins with his own travails as an Irishman with a green card in America, a would-be writer trying to eke out a living as a bartender to support his wife and young son. When the bar he works at closes, through a series of encounters and choices he winds up committing theft from illegal immigrants who have to store all their earnings in the form of cash. That in turns leads to a meeting with some dangerous people; but then, doesn’t any immigrant to these shores, legal or not, end up doing whatever he or she has to in order to survive and succeed? That’s the reasoning Finnegan assures himself with, anyway.
Davies comes onto the stage wearing jeans, a vest, tie and a hat, and quickly places himself behind the small but well-stocked bar that is the scenic design of Frank Chavez. He speaks directly to the audience as he pours a drink, and those audience members seated at the tables nearest the stage may find themselves being served a drink as well.
Throughout the show, Davies portrays not only Finnegan but a range of characters, while delivering a range of accents, too. There’s his wife, Tina; her brother, a cop; his in-laws; a bereaved father; a bartender friend; and a couple of other immigrants with whom he gets entangled in some lucrative smuggling of still more (hence the play title). The mood shifts from comedic to dramatic and back again; there’s an especially vivid acting out of Finnegan’s battle with a rat (of the rodent variety, not human) that you can’t help but picture in your mind and shudder at. And our view of Tim changes back and forth as well. He’s likeable, charming and persuasive; he’s also amoral in the end. Do we accept that about him or not? Regardless, he’s made his decision. and will live with it.
All along, Noone’s rhymes sometimes surprise and even startle during a taut, swiftly moving 70 minutes (no intermission), earning the piece and the performer well-deserved applause at the end.
The Smuggler continues through Feb. 20 at Urbanite; for tickets, call (941) 321-1397 or visit urbanitetheatre.com.