REVIEW: In Da at Irish Heritage Theatre, the Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Dan McGlaughlin and John Cannon 3 2

Dan McGlaughlin and John Cannon in Da at Irish Heritage Theatre.

We are now more or less midway through the theater season, and the good news is that Philly has had a number of significant hits already. Looking over the list of what I’ve seen since September 2018—including both Philly and New York—I see several shows to which I’ve given more or less rave reviews.

But for sheer charm, Da at Irish Heritage Theatre rises to the top—and I doubt it will be equaled this year, or for many to come.

Perhaps that sounds like qualified praise, or maybe a wee bit condescending. As for the latter, not a bit. In terms of the former… well, OK—there are aspects beyond charm in Da, Hugh Leonard’s bittersweet comedy about the impossibility of completely leaving behind one’s family legacy, that are beyond charm… and perhaps beyond IRT’s production.

On the other hand, charm is important—vital, really. And what the company of Da achieve, under Peggy Mecham’s meticulous direction, is something remarkable. Literally, every single actor on the stage looks totally relaxed. The sense that we are observing ordinary life in progress is overwhelming. And the cast is completely delightful.

Hugh Leonard’s play, a 1978 Tony Award winner, is an autobiographical memory piece in the tradition of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, in which a successful writer looks upon his past as a kind of living ghost story. Da moves backward and forward through time, occasionally reminding the audience of its own theatricality. The title character is, by turns, alive and dead—but always influential in the life of his son, here called “Charlie,” who is played by two different actors at different stages of life.

Da is not a great work, but it’s a heartfelt and effective one—especially here, in the best production I’ve seen yet from the estimable Irish Heritage Theatre, with a cast of actors who meet every demand.

In the title role, IHT veteran John Cannon is utterly beguiling, but there’s not a weak link in the cast (Daniel McGlaughlin, Oliver Donahue, Mary Pat Walsh, Lee Stover, Mark Knight, Kelly Filios, and Susan Giddings), all of whom seem to be truly living in the play’s world. And that’s a rare and beautiful thing.

It’s not a perfect production. Some jagged corners in Da are softened here, and, ideally, the shifts between the past and present should register more sharply. The leisurely pace, so effective in the early parts of the play, begins to lag in the second half (we can blame the playwright himself for that, at least in part).

But the joy of watching IHT’s Da, with its near-perfect evocation of ordinary life and relationships, compensates for any flaws. Don’t miss this terrific, moving show!

Da plays through March 23. For more information, visit the Irish Heritage Theatre website.

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