A Night in November (Corrib Theatre)

Stand up for the boys in green.

OFF YER SEAT: Damon Kupper.

Irish playwright Marie Jones frames A Night in November with two soccer matches. The first is in Belfast in 1993, a World Cup qualifier between the two Irelands—the Republic and its northern, Protestant neighbor. The other is seven months later, at the 1994 World Cup in New York, with the Republic playing Italy and the team’s soused fans warbling about shoving pizzas up the arses of the opposing team.

It's an effective if overly pat pair of bookends for this one-man show, which charts the political awakening of a Belfast man named Kenneth. Played in this Corrib Theatre production by the loose-limbed Damon Kupper, Kenneth is a welfare clerk who's as dutiful in the disgruntled rigmarole of his government job as he is in his rigid, practiced Protestantism. He's a prick to his secretary and complains about the co-worker who maliciously nabs the last jam-filled biscuit, and he delights in revealing to his supervisor that he's earned membership at the golf club, a privilege a Catholic would never be granted. "Even when the fat lady sings," Kenneth crows, "we'll always stick to our own."

But when dragged to a soccer match by his crass bigot of a father-in-law—in adopting that role, Kupper feigns leaning out a car window to suck on a cigarette, his voice turning wet and gruff—Kenneth has a revelation so concussive it's a wonder he wasn't struck on the head with a rogue ball. Shocked by the behavior at the stadium, he wakes up to the injustice around him: his wife's casual cruelty, the routine presence of army tanks in Belfast's Catholic neighborhood, the soulless drones at his office who unthinkingly make the Catholic welfare applicants wait longer for an appointment. Though not wholly implausible, it's a crisis of conscience that smacks Kenneth all too rapidly. Worse, the script overloads him with a series of shell-shocked musings, which ring false for a character who's been presented as an average drudge.

The good news is that Kupper has an ebullient, winning presence, and in the second act—when Kenneth decides to hop across the pond for the World Cup—he's able to shake off his character's heavy-handed philosophizing. Now light on his feet, his face red and beaded with sweat, Kupper singlehandedly captures the conviviality of a mildly tipsy Aer Lingus flight and an utterly sloshed New York City bar—no mean feat, considering he's on a tiny, bare-bones stage in the upstairs banquet room at Kells. However briefly, we're able to forgive the script's glib resolutions and give over to the game's "bloody good craic."

SEE IT: A Night in November is at Kells Irish Pub, 112 SW 2nd Ave., corribtheatre.org. 7:30 pm Mondays-Wednesdays through March 5. $25.

WWeek 2015

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