Howie the Rookie: A Master Production

April 7, 2011

Howie the Rookie, Mark O’Rowe’s powerful tale focusing on two young men involved in the underground world of gang life in Ireland, played in the Loeb Ex Theatre from February 18th-20th and February 24th-26th.

The play is a master lesson in storytelling. It is told entirely through intertwining monologues delivered by Howie Lee (Adam Conner ‘14) and Rookie Lee (Peter Bestoso ‘14). While they narrate two different interpretations of the same story, the two hoodlum characters never verbally interact.  That the play is told exclusively through monologues makes the performance even more impressive, given the young ages of the performers and the substantial number of lines learned. Furthermore, the actors are able to communicate to the audience even without dialogue, making vividly clear their relationship of mistrust, violence, and eventually companionship.

The only time we do see the two characters interact is when they are engaged in fights, with each other or with imagined mutual enemies. Through artfully composed fight choreography, the audience is thrown head-first into the dark world of violence in which these two young men reside. These powerful movement sequences seem to assault the audience head-on, most notably in the final act of the show. Directed by Ali Leskowitz ‘11, they are a highlight of the production for their dramatic power and visual effect, and they serve to break up the passive recitation of past events that comprises most of the show.
But the actors are good at more than fighting. Bestoso and Connor diligently execute the thick Irish accents, managing to balance the challenging task of keeping them both consistent and intelligible. And their acting is always on point: neither actor lets his guard down, and each demonstrates intense commitment in both his harshest and most sensitive moments.

The grittiness of the Dublin streets is brilliantly brought to life with the creative set design of Snoweria Zhang ‘12. The stage is filled with hundreds of misshapen wooden two by fours nailed haphazardly to the walls. The wood is covered with sprawling graffiti–look closer and you’ll notice the names of cast and crew inscribed in the woodwork. As the characters move from their homes to pubs to the streets, Leskowitz evokes the various settings with minimal props and representational set pieces.
Yet what makes the set so clever is that it leaves the audience free to construct their own vision of the story from the actors’ words. That fits the task the play sets its audience: as Bestoso and Connor weave conflicting narrative threads, individual audience members are forced to synthesize the two stories, reconcile the differences, and determine what actually transpired. This makes for an incredibly intimate and arresting audience experience that shocks, confuses and ultimately leaves you emotionally drained.

The Harvard Art Review Theatre Board

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