An elderly man looks on with mingled fascination and sorrow as the pivotal events of his youth play out once again before him: Leonard’s 1980 memory play breaks little ground in its stagecraft or themes, but it does yield an affecting portrait of its Irish characters and their sleepy Dalkey home. Desmond Drumm (Mahoney/Matt Schwader), a lifelong civil servant, scorns his provincial surroundings, warding off his associates in sharp, grammatically precise tones. To some degree, A Life offers a rare argument in favor of the conformist herd. Desmond’s sour singularity contrasts poorly with the bluff heartiness of his rival Kearns (Bradley Armacost/Belushi), whose meager existence on the dole never extinguishes his fondness for the sort of folk wisdom usually confined to samplers.
Jones’s production lends rueful weight to Leonard’s character sketch. A quartet of young actors—Joanne Dubach and Melanie Keller along with Belushi and Schwader—exude brash energy as they set up domestic arrangements that endure 40 years later. Mahoney certainly looks the part of a grimly surviving, intellectually inclined Irishman, his bespectacled visage a blend of Joyce and Beckett, even if his dyspepsia is played a little thick, muddying the edges of Desmond’s wit. Kimbrough invests Desmond’s youthful sweetheart Mary with fierce pride, while Armacost’s Kearns is delightfully vague, his inappropriate high spirits infectious. A Life eschews high dramatics; its Ireland is that of William Trevor, not Brendan Behan. But in this skillful staging, it lets us into some surprisingly complex inner lives.