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From Both Hips

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From Both Hips, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company. Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe calls his 1997 play a comedy, though there's nothing particularly funny about a man who's mistakenly shot (twice) by an incompetent member of the Dublin police force and then endures a long, painful recovery. On the other hand, the playwright does use plenty of comic types: the grumpy misanthrope, the inept cop, the clinging mistress, the put-upon wife seeking revenge. And like Harold Pinter, O'Rowe uses the elements of comedy--sly quips, non sequiturs, the light treatment of a dark topic--to craft a mostly serious work that constantly undermines our expectations. For example, it's the "innocent" victim we despise by the end, not the trigger-happy policeman. O'Rowe is also a deft portraitist (again like Pinter) who delights in revealing the unsuspected depths of apparent stock characters.

Not all the performances in Jay Paul Skelton's U.S. premiere are equally strong; some of the acting feels rough and underrehearsed. But the best in the ensemble successfully negotiate O'Rowe's multilayered characters; Jeff Buelterman in particular is superb as the shooting victim. The quavering edge in his voice alone--part angry growl, part childish whine--speaks volumes about his confusion and free-floating rage. From the moment we first hear him speak, we know he's capable of anything. And over the course of the play, he proves it.

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