How many ways can you say “Da,” as in father? In Trad, the word literally bounces off the walls. This animated farce features four cartoon-like characters, as well as a trembling tea-cup, an artificial limb, and red apples that boomerang. While I initially thought one would hit me (or someone else in the audience), I was thoroughly amused to see the apples bounce right back where they came from. Ah, the magic of the stage.
At its core, Trad (short for ‘tradition’) is a story about roots – specifically Irish roots, Irish pride, Irish progeny and, yes, Irish xenophobia. We meet Da and his only child, Thomas, who live in a small hamlet in Ireland. While history, of course, binds them they are constantly at odds, (barely) tolerant of one another. And while both are physically handicapped, it is their metaphysical pain we feel. Both are also old (Thomas being 100; Da even older), their clothes beautifully bare thread. And who knew that hair could grow so long out of a man’s ear – almost long enough to braid.
While the story is straightforward enough (father and son set out in search of Thomas’ illegitimate child), Trad plays out in real time and satirizes Irish drama. Here, the characters are seriously flawed and essentially cliché (i.e. belligerent father harangues bewildered son). There is delightful physical humor throughout (Thomas is missing an arm; Da a leg) as the two cross the Irish countryside looking for the missing progeny. Does Thomas find his long-lost son? In fine, absurdist tradition we are left hanging as well as asking ourselves: Who has not sought the approval of a father – Irish or not? Here, it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
Trad, written by Irish playwright Mark Doherty, features live Celtic music as well as extraordinary performances by three members of the SideMart Theatrical Grocery: Patrick Costello as Da, Graham Cuthbertson as Thomas, and Andrew Shaver, who, as well as playing two parts (Father Rice, the inebriated priest, and Sal, the village crank), also directs.
“Da…? Da…? Da…? Da…? Da…? Da…? Da…! Da…!”
Thomas remains in the boat, with one arm, and one oar.
Trad, which made its Canadian premiere in 2007 at the Segal Studio, runs at Centaur Theatre through March 24.
Linda Renaud is an award-winning journalist who has worked in both Canada and the U.S.