Penned in 1961, veteran Irish playwright Tom Murphy’s “A Whistle in the Dark” just might be one of the stage’s first unapologetic character studies of boys gone wild. Certainly Seanachai Theatre’s revival, in a boisterous, physical and testosterone-fueled production directed by Jeff Christian, reminds you of this throughout. But it’s ultimately more exhausting than emotional, and doesn’t achieve the tragic dimensions that would give the overlong evening the dramatic payoff it promises. Part of the problem is that while the play’s themes—the inescapable pull of the competitive tribal mentality; the resentment between fathers and the progeny who reject that patriarchal influence—still ring true today, in the last forty years they have been rendered with more playwriting panache (Pinter, Mamet) and/or punch (Bond, Pugliese) so as to make Murphy’s straightforward writing and storytelling less thrilling in comparison. And pockets of verbosity and pivotal plot turns feel forced by the playwright’s hand rather than by the organic onstage drama lessen the play’s overall impact. In the critical role of Michael Carney, the pacifist brother who has immigrated to England in hopes of escaping the clutches of his violent Irish family, Coburn Goss gives a performance of tremendous empathy and vulnerability. Ironically, Michael is the oldest of the Carney clan but Goss’s youthful appearance makes him look like one of the youngest. You don’t realize this until after the play, however, as Goss’s performance of emotional and physical deterioration adds years to his already old soul characterization. This is a fine reading indeed but it never hints at the inbred Carney brutality that manifests itself in the bloody denouement rendering it, like the overall effect of this production, more pugilistic than profound. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Victory Gardens, 2257 N. Lincoln, (773)871-3000. Thu & Fri 8:30pm/Sat 8pm/Sun 3:30pm. $24-$28. Through May 14.