Eugene O’Hare’s The Dry House is a play seemingly about the dehumanising aspects of alcoholism and its punishing effects on everyone who surrounds the sorrowful life of a chronic drinker.
Its bare bones are contained within a cramped living room as cluttered as the mind of Chrissy (Mairead McKinley), a woman defeated by alcohol and haunted by the death of her teenage daughter Heather (Carla Langley).
Chrissy is someone who society views as the hopeless, self-pitying drunk but not by her saintly all-forgiving sister Claire (Kathy Kiera Clarke) whose mission is to deliver Chrissy to The Dry House, a clinic in Ireland where people with debilitating relationships with alcohol are offered a space to cure themselves.
What follows during this 90-minute drama – and what we expect to hear – are repetitive expositions of Chrissy’s decades-long journey along the wet and slippery road of alcoholism.
Some of the so-called horrors she recounts are lapses of memory where she finds herself waking up in a public space half-naked; and her invitation to a stranger who is peeing up the side wall of an art centre.
“Do you want to put yourself in my mouth?“ Chrissy offers to the man as he zips himself up. Once the oral act is completed, Chrissy then needs to repel sister Claire with further details of the sticky stuff plastered onto her, like some permanent tattoo no laundry powder can ever wash out.
But evangelical Claire’s response never waivers, her love for Chrissy is unconditional and not about family loyalty or sisterhood. “I love you because you’re a woman who’s lost her life“, Claire says, without a hint of fury or frustration at the hopeless whine Chrissy’s been dishing out for decades.
In the writing, Claire’s humanness is sacrificed in not allowing her a moment of rage to near strangle Chrissy for her narcissistic self-absorption and the grief it causes to the people who love her. Nor the burden of helplessness they bear as Chrissy re-boards the alcoholic rollercoaster of destruction.
The more believable character is dead daughter Heather, who reappears in the back story, and speaks of a teenage girl’s need to hear the words I love you and to sacrifice her dignity to a boy who knows the power of these words and uses them to get Heather to pose for half-naked selfies. She too boards a rollercoaster of destruction when the boy threatens to post the revealing selfies on social media unless she replenishes him with an ongoing stock of nude photos.
The pressure becomes too much for Heather and, immediately after passing her driving test, she speed crashes a car and commits suicide.
All the actors in The Dry House stand up to the writing and give powerful performances, and O’Hare’s writing does not disappoint but, in my own humble opinion, this play is not about forgiveness and redemption.
Eugene O’Hare is a playwright in search of an unnamed question, one that resurfaces in his work around the suffering and/or death of a child, whether that child is pre-pubescent, adolescent or adult. Viewers privileged to have seen The Weatherman, Sidney and the Old Girl; and O’Hare’s monologue of a father who bears the guilt of slapping his own son will get what I mean.
O’Hare invents characters who attempt to respond to this unnamed question in a dramatic context and in ways familiar to us; do we stand by distracted by our own selfish interests, or wallow in self-pity while a child suffers before us? And haven’t we, too, been perpetrators of some punishing, thoughtless act? Not dissimilar to Chrissy, who is too drunk to see her own daughter’s intense pain and life-threatening humiliation.
And, like the children who’ve suffered before her, Heather already knows her fears will remain unheard or unanswered, even if she chooses to reveal them to the adults closest to her.
As an allegory, The Dry House is a play that questions who we are, the decisions we make, and the road we travel before arriving at the river Styx.
However, it doesn’t quite answer Eugene O’Hare’s unnamed question, but I will attend all his forthcoming plays to find out.
Review by Loretta Monaco
In the Irish border town of Newry, Chrissy promises her sister Claire that after one final drink she will go to The Dry House to get sober. Does she mean it this time?
Follow the sisters as they attempt to overcome the devastating impact of alcoholism on their family in this powerful and timely exploration of grief, family, addiction – and the immense and redemptive power of hope.
Kathy Kiera Clarke
Writer and Director – Eugene O’Hare
Scenographer – Niall McKeever
Lighting Design – Robbie Butler
Sound Design – Esther Kehinde Ajayi
Casting – Ginny Schiller
Publishers – Methuen Drama
The Dry House
By Eugene O’Hare
A World Premiere
Performance: 7 April – 6 May 2023