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Singles, married feel time is running out

“For Love” * Written by Laoisa Sexton * Directed by Tim Ruddy * Starring John Duddy, Jo Kinsella, Georgina McKevitt, Laoisa Sexton * at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., NYC * Playing Wednesdays through Sundays through April 5 * Contact: 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.

Theater / By Orla O'Sullivan

“For Love” is aptly described in its publicity materials as “a dark blue romantic comedy.” There are, literally, no holds barred and it’s laugh-out-loud funny, especially in the raunchy-gone-wrong scenes.

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Underneath, however, there’s a sadness. None of the characters get what they want—had they any idea what that is.

The ever-present underbelly is conveyed in part by the situation of sexual encounters outside the zoo railings at night. Along with many animal references in the play, it’s a reminder of our generally unacknowledged bestial side.

That setting also brings to mind the observation that marriage is like a fence with those inside trying to get out, those outside trying to get in.

We have two cheating spouses and two single women, afraid that they are running out of time to meet someone. All go to great lengths “for love”-- or so they believe.

All sublimate or thwart their opportunities for intimacy. Bee, played by playwright Laoisa Sexton, lives vicariously through her son. Narcissistic Tina (Georgina McKevitt) is more married to shopping than her husband. Hunky Aiden (John Duddy) is a cheat and horny Val (Jo Kinsella) is fixated on meeting the right physical type.

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The married characters, Tina and Aiden, are not married to each other, but their lives and those of Val and Bee, are woven together.

The writing feels quintessentially female, more texture than line. By the time the play ends little has happened. The characters don’t know themselves much better than at the beginning. But it’s interesting fodder for thought on our own misguided fumblings toward true connection. The play is also nuanced, acknowledging men denied tenderness, craving cuddles, as well as women with voracious sexual appetites.

“For Love” was, understandably, a hit at last year’s First Irish Theatre Festival, where it made its debut. After its current run at The Irish Repertory Theatre, it goes on tour in the U.K. and Ireland.

Actress Jo Kinsella won the 1st Irish Achievement Award last fall in part for her role as Val. Indeed, earthy Val and the other female characters —flinty Tina and naive Bee --are very well played.

The closest thing to a climax comes when Bee, who was a mother at 14, becomes a granny at 32. Before this push towards maturity, she observes earlier in the play: “I’m younger than I think I ought to be by now. You know what I mean?”

The characters’ growing pains are fun to watch, through a half-wince. One of the nicely directed scenes is the hilarious sexual encounter between Aiden and Tina, an obsessive-compulsive character too germaphobic to kiss and too rigid to allow her hair to be ruffled in the act.

The air is electrified during the first erotic act between Val and Bee. Their genuine feeling gives failed hope of something more than a utilitarian exchange in the case of these characters.

But a scene soon after signals more dashed hope. As the couple part, we see Aiden pick up the baby seat that was obscured by the dark.

“He’s very f*****g married – married with a kid!” Val reminds Bee later in one of many arguments in their otherwise very close friendship.

That phone call scene makes good use of a cinematic split-screen effect. But if “For Love” were the movies, this emigrant is left hoping it’s not cinéma vérité. Even allowing that the play shows very much a working-class slice of Irish life, does it really reflect the “new normal” ushered in by the Celtic Tiger? If so, that’s depressing.