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Howie the Rookie

Reviewed by Lucy Komisar

Presented by P.S. 122 and The Bush Theatre Company at P.S. 122, 150 First Ave. (at E. Ninth St.), NYC, Jan. 3-27.

In the culture of the anti-heroes of Mark O'Rowe's dark, chilling play, the way to express affection is by beating a friend's enemy to a pulp. Dysfunctional can hardly describe the crude, predatory men and slatternly women who people the lumpen world of Howie Lee (Aidan Kelly) and "Howie the Rookie" (Karl Shiels) in Tallaght, a section of Dublin.

Yet, O'Rowe and director Mike Bradwell help the actors pull poetry out of their desperation, using a language spoken as free verse, with quatrains of short and long phrases, fast and slow rhythms, that belie the horrific bloody events they describe. When Howie, for example, says, "I talked down my prey like a feral hunter," one senses the irony of the epic words.

The two men, perhaps 30 years old, appear separately in front of designer Es Devlin's gray concrete wall, which represents their bleak existence. A metal band running horizontally through it is scratched to reveal a streak of gold—their destructive frustration? Some hidden value?

For all his "macho-ness"—a word he uses—Howie is shy around women, preferring bar girls who just want sex. He goes after the Rookie because the latter has slept on Howie's friend's mattress and left mites that infected two buddies with horribly itchy scabies.

The two actors use richly subtle voices and gestures. As Kelly, with close-cropped hair and black warm-up pants, jeans jacket, and sneakers, remembers the attack, his breathing shifts from a roar to satisfied quiet. Shiels, with stand-up black thatch, short chin stubble, black leather jacket and pants, and shiny black shoes, changes speed, and his eyes glaze as he recounts another sickening, flesh-tearing fight.

The actors speak in working-class Dublin accent and argot, which are sometimes hard to understand, but whose musicality enhances the poetry.

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