Laoisa Sexton and John Keating in “The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal.”
By Orla O’Sullivan
“C’m here, I’ll tell you a question,” Laoisa Sexton’s character repeatedly asks John Keating’s in Sexton’s latest play, “The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal.” To add to Lorraine’s idiosyncratic turns of phrase, she pronounces “question” as “KEH-stion,” with the accent of a settled traveler.
Keating, whose idiosyncrasies include being known only as Pigeon, responds in his own distinctive, oblique way, frequently repeating favorite lyrics in his nervous prattle. He: “We’re caught in a trap.” She: “What’s that supposed to mean?” He: “Elvis.”
She’s trying to figure out how she came to be in a tiny caravan, caught in a ‘70 time-trap, dated by décor such as fake wood paneling or “beauty board,” that’s inhabited by a strange man with a shock of hair. Her head hurts from drink and a blow, presumably received at the same time as her leg got bashed.
He also finds her to be a creature from another universe, not just because he is unused to company. She’s young and attractive, her bottom barely covered by a tutu, and a tiara on her head.
“Bridie,” he muses, “you don’t seem like a Bridie,” until it dawns on him that the label is “bride” (she got separated from her bachelorette party). Pigeon assures Lorraine, passed out on his bench, that she’ll make a good wife because she’s not “a confrontating personality.”
He’s in for a bit of a shock when she comes around, although he correctly deduced earlier that Lorraine is a Gemini, therefore “unpredictable.” (He, a Scorpio, is “loyal and good at living alone.”)
For Lorraine, Pigeon defies classification. What to make of a man who says, “Your hair smells of coconut. You smell like a Bounty Bar… Mammy used to eat them without her teeth in.” The audience knows Pigeon is also lost since his mother’s tragic death, the only significant, if somewhat smothering person in his life.
Lorraine cannot fit Pigeon in to her frame of reference. She assumes that, like other men, he wants something from her. At one point, she thinks she has it: he’s a defrocked, pedophile priest! “Oh no,” I don’t like priests,” he says, earnestly, adding meaningfully, “they’re always sniffing around for a bit of cake.” We in the audience know that he is mourning his pet rabbit, squashed by the fat, sweet-toothed priest who sat on him.
Lorraine struggles to get his drift as her over sexualized, utilitarian references pass him by. So do all the modern references, including that of her missing iPhone. “iPhone? I phone. You phone,” he plays back with the eager simplicity of a child.
Yet, for whatever mental or social deficiency Pigeon has, he can also reel off facts like an idiot savant. This frustrates Lorraine further, as when she struggles to establish that the Taj Mahal in which she is situated is not in India but a pompously named caravan park outside Kilkee, Co. Clare.
“What are you, f***ing Wikipedia?!” she says but the accused cannot understand the charge. He still fears banshees, knows the meanderings of a local goat, and exactly how moonlight falls on the path into town.
It was there that Lorraine had been at a licentious nightclub before getting lost—or found. Slowly, Pigeon’s winning way shows her another way of being. Keating is phenomenal, portraying a character so guileless as to make you ache. Sexton is also excellent, allowing some vulnerability to peep through the largely feigned ferocity her world requires.
The contrast of the two worlds is underscored when Josie, Lorraine’s groom-to-be for a flashy wedding, all on credit, appears. Johnny Hopkins doesn’t have the bulk you’d expect for the brute described—someone who makes his muscles shine with Vaseline— but he does impart menace.
Zoe Watkins, as Lorraine’s reveler aunt has a horribly distracting, rootless accent, but she moves the plot along and is a foil for the unlikely chemistry that has developed between Pigeon and Lorraine.
Like the play itself, it’s unlikely and inspired. Alternatively highly amusing, touching, and gripping, it left this viewer sick with nerves for part of the fleeting 95 minutes.
Sexton has had two plays produced for the New York stage in recent times – the diverting “For Love” and “The Last Days of Cleopatra” – but her third is the best so far.
“The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal,” which is directed by Alan Cox, opened Sunday. It will play at the Irish Repertory Theatre through Dec. 31 (www.irishrep.org).