Good help is hard to find, as the adage goes. But it’s even harder to figure out just when good help has gone bad, as Fly Me to the Moon, the charming, if dark, comedy directed and penned by Marie Jones, reminds. But Jones, who had a West End and Broadway hit a decade earlier with Stones in His Pockets, is after more than mere yuks; Moon (playing at 59E59 Theaters in the 1st Irish Festival), also proves to be a probing piece as well. Beneath its surface level of tangled-web humor lay some very real questions about human nature and conduct.
For instance, is Davy McGee, the ailing 85-year-old being taken care of by visiting home nurses Francis Shields (Katie Tumelty) and Loretta Mackey (Tara Lynne O’Neill) anything more than a tree in the woods? He seem to have no friends, relatives, or ties to the outside world aside from the weekly ticket he has his caretakers bring to the racetracks on the off-chance he might win.
Francis and Loretta find themselves in a pickle when, during an extended period of distraction, Davy turns up, well, dead in his bathroom. As the two debate the perils of reporting the death and potentially acknowledging their own failure to notice while on the job, Francis, the craftier of the two, has the presence of mind to suggest that they wait to make the call until after they have withdrawn Davy’s weekly pension (one of their regular duties) and pocketed it for themselves.
Francis’ and Loretta’s ongoing debate – does need supersede guilt – addresses another fundamental question in Jones’ play. What exactly is the value of a human life? The playwright nimbly peppers in enough details about her two protagonists’ working class Belfast lives for our sympathy to automatically magnetize their way. For instance, Francis deludes herself about her son’s new black-market DVD enterprise, while flibbertigibbet Loretta’s bricklayer husband is out of a job, depriving her daughter of attending a school field trip to Euro Disney. Can Davy mean more to these women, and raise their station, even briefly, in death? If no one knows how he died, and how long he has been dead – a biological fact harder to deny the more rigor mortis sets in – are they really doing anything all that bad?
As Moon goes on, Francis comes up with a few other ideas of how to exploit Davy’s demise, which start out as improbably but amusing, and eventually begin to feel repetitive. (Jones also does herself no favors by prolonging her play and breaking up her momentum with an unnecessary intermission.) The hilarity wanes, but the play’s humanity never does, thanks the show’s indomitable stars. Tumelty is flinty but also deeply believable, letting Francis’ desperation make her choices feel resourceful more than brutal or manipulative. And O’Neill brings real pathos to a working mother just barely scraping by. The two both nail their northern Irish accents and prove to be skilled physical comedians as well, navigating Niall Rea’s bedroom set with ease. One might not want to hire Francis and Loretta to take care of a loved one, but one would be a fool not to catch the O’Neill and Tumelty at their next gig.
Fly Me to the Moon
At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan; (212) 279-4200; www.59e59.org. Thru Sept. 30.
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