Theater Review: The Smuggler

photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox
photo by Dylan Jon Wade Cox
Dennis "Mitch" Maley
SARASOTA — The Smuggler, an immersive and highly original play by Ronán Noone, recently made its regional debut at Urbanite Theater in downtown Sarasota. A one-man show told in some 9,000 lines of rhyme, it is impressive enough just in terms of structure. However, the deft storytelling, timely social commentary, and Giles Davies' masterful performance raise it to a level of excellence we rarely have the chance to witness in person, even in an area so rich with theater experiences.

Tim Finnegan is an Irish immigrant who longs to be a writer but can't quite find his way. Struggling to make ends meet as a bartender on the island of Amity in the ever-expensive Martha’s Vineyard, he turns to petty theft, and eventually other manners of seedy employment related to moving illegal immigrants into the country.

Noone, who grew up in Galway, Ireland, followed the same path, immigrating to the U.S. at Amity and working as a bartender to pay the bills while he attended Boston University and finished his first play, The Lepers of Baile Baiste.

The central theme of The Smuggler is immigration and, as with most subjects, the view of an outsider who's been through our system is instructive. Noone confronts the audience with the many complications and hypocrisies our society and its economy collide with on the subject, but he does so in such an engaging and entertaining manner that it's like getting a dose of bitter medicine laced with a great big lump of sugar.

Davies nails the brogue and brings an eye-twinkle to his storytelling that will have you fully convinced he's fresh off the boat from the Emerald Isle, but it's his amazing endurance and ability to sustain such frenetic energy over such a long period that sends jaws a dropping by the time the curtain falls. The standing ovation was as sustained and genuine as any I recall in recent memory.

The set (scenic design by Frank Chavez and lighting by Simean Carpenter and Alex Pinchin) lives up to Urbanite's reputation for making the very most of its small black-box space. The front seats are actually bar tables and some theatergoers are even treated to a drink, as Finnegan tells his tale while keeping shop, breaking the fourth wall and drawing the audience so deep into the tale that it feels as though they are participating. 

For fans of theater, this is certainly a not-to-be-missed event. Directed by Urbanite co-founder Brendan Ragan, The Smuggler runs through Feb. 20. Visit the Urbanite website for schedule and ticket information.

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