Snake Eaters – The New Theatre, Dublin
Writer: Stewart Roche
Director: Caroline FitzGerald
Hillis (Patrick O’Donnell) finds himself struggling to settle back into his hometown of Bellevue, Nebraska. This is not so much because the town or people have changed but rather that he is a different person to when he left. He has just returned from a tour of duty with the US marines in Afghanistan, having been commended for his service and receiving an honourable discharge. Now home again he is living with his father, Don (Pat Nolan), and attempting to find normality. He meets up with his old friend Joey (Cillian Roche) at the local bar, where he is introduced to Ashley (Lesley Conroy), a woman with a past and a less than desirable present. They share a connection, albeit conflictual at first, but there is something intangible between them. One thing that gets in the way of their burgeoning relationship however is Ashley’s boyfriend, Austin (John Morton) the local drug dealer to whom Joey owes a substantial amount of money. This, coupled with Hillis’ need to rationalise his war experiences while also trying to deny them, leads to a perfect storm of events. As the situation becomes perilous Hillis’ old comrade Glock (Niall Bruton) arrives to help his old buddy out but, just like Hillis, Glock has not returned from war unscathed and carries his trauma with him. With so much repressed emotion, something is bound to give.
While Snake Eaters could easily be classed as a war story, it is far more than that. It does explore the impact of war on the individual and society but it primarily tells a story of people overcoming their past and trying to make a positive future for themselves. The healing quality of relationships is at the core of this story; from the father-son bond between Don and Hillis to the camaraderie that Glock and Hillis have. Ashley’s story is as much as part of Snake Eaters as Hillis’ and their relationship is the true catalyst of change for both of them. Far from being a singular tale, this play is rich with unique characters who all have a story to tell.
The linear storyline is broken at the end of the Act 1, where Hillis has a flashback to the events which led to his honourable discharge from the marines. Besides this there is thankfully little direct information about what he has witnessed, with the overall story focussing on the relationships and an ongoing drug feud. It is clear that a lot of research has gone into this piece but it is the moments of everyday dialogue and emotion that really shines through rather than the hard facts or Americanisms. Under the direction of Caroline FitzGerald the entire cast ably portray their characters, ranging from believable fight scenes (always tricky in theatre) to raw emotion. Nolan’s firm but sweet portrayal of Don complements the tougher characters in Snake Eaters without stealing the limelight from O’ Donnell and Conroy, both of whom give sterling performances.
A basic kitchen set (Martin Cahill) is the main place of action but the entire stage is utilised as the action shifts to a local bar and a gas station. The set is perfunctory and realistic, echoing the town of Bellevue, and holding a sense of glumness that the characters, specifically Hillis, also seem to possess. Sound (David Gillespie) and lighting (Cathy O’Carroll) are used in tandem to evoke the overall feel of the piece and in particular scenes come into their own.
For what on the surface looks like a play about war, Snake Eaters is an all-rounder, bringing the audience on a journey with the characters from fun and laughter to gritty reality. At just over 2 hours (including a 15 minute interval) Snake Eaters moves quite quickly. There is a surprising amount of humour in this tale due to the razor sharp dialogue and great characters Roche has created in what is arguably his most ambitious play to date. Though the topic at hand might be tough, the story is told with compassion and hope, coming together in a new piece of theatre that is well worth a look.
Runs until December 19th 2015 @ The New Theatre, Dublin.