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Deep Space: A Compelling Irish Drama

By Robert Hall
Friday September 27, 2002

Transparent Theater strides into its second season sure-footedly with Alex Johnston’s two-person drama “Deep Space.”  

Johnston is one of the new breed of Irish playwrights. Raised in Dublin, he sets “Deep Space” in shabby digs there. Those digs, sketched in scenic artist Ann Goldschmidt’s skewed platform topped by a couple of mismatched stuffed chairs and a block-and-board bookcase, are occupied by two aimless blokes named Keith and Jaco. The Bay Area has seen quite a few of their type on the stage lately, from Charlie and Jake in “Stones in His Pockets,” to Howie and Rookie in Magic Theater’s sizzling “Howie the Rookie.” By the evidence of these works, and Johnston’s, young Irish men of the middle and lower classes are as full of blarney as they’ve always been, but their blowhard cynicism masks a lingering pathos. 

Rootless, they long for home; bewildered, they long for life to make sense; sarcastic, they long for love. 

“Deep Space” consists of a series of encounters in that Dublin flat over a period of weeks. Seemingly the more relaxed and philosophical of the roomies, lean, pale, curly-haired Keith is college educated but jobless, killing time smoking, reading the paper, watching telly and talking about seeking work. Smaller, wiry, crop-haired Jaco is a working class guy, an electrician who wriggles in his chair like a tadpole in a womb, his physical restlessness reflecting itchy longings. Crudely but touchingly articulate, he’s crazy about women, and he wants to find Miss Right. “I’m too old to do this anymore!” he cries. 

Women are a main theme of Keith and Jaco’s conversation, particularly one named Fionnula. She’s no dummy. “There’s lots of boys out there,” we’re told she observes, “but there’s not many men.” Keith knew her first, and though he claims not to be interested in her, he lies to Keith about her being a lesbian. 

Keith meets her by chance and falls into bed with her. 

He falls in love with her, too. 

Both men know she was once raped. She tells Jaco a story about a friend who was raped. That, and the play’s opening talk about “paradigm shifts” in sexual roles, lays the groundwork for dark developments. “Deep Space” is good at letting those developments sneak up. At first the play seems as cheery and aimless as its two characters, but Fionnula gradually comes between them, leading to a powerful climax of twin betrayals that’s unexpected yet convincing. 

Love doesn’t always lead to tenderness, and (though it’s politically incorrect to say so) rape may not be solely an act of violence. 

Transparent Theater gives Johnston’s spare, moving play a restrained and beautiful production. David Robertson provides mood-enhancing lighting, and Patrick Kaliski adds effective sound. Ryan Montgomery directs with a fine feeling for the nuances of the story, and the two actors are appealingly right. Drew Khalouf gives Keith’s existential torpor a tragic edge, and as Jaco Jason Frazier is both hilariously fidgety and touching. 

We never learn quite what brought this mismatched pair together, but the play, and the actors, make it clear what sunders them. Transparent Theater has converted a former church at Ashby Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way into a fine and welcome addition to the East Bay’s playhouses, and “Deep Space” is a good reason to visit it.