Rick Charles Mueller is a playwright with a social conscience and it shows in all his recent plays. For the past three years, I have seen his stage work mostly at the Thespis and Venus Adonis Theatre Festivals, which are now called the Winterfest and Summer Fest but run by the same folks. For Mr. Mueller, this festival scene has given him the opportunity to share with us the story of a Brooklyn family dealing with drugs and racism (Brooklyn Tides, Driftwood), a play about a rising gay politician and his stepson with Tourette’s Syndrome (In, Manhattan), and most recently, his new play about a young black man who is part Irish and is sent to County Claire in Ireland after the death of his mother (I Am Irish). In all his plays, there are gay characters, social conflicts, family secrets, and impending tension of some sort. For Mr. Mueller, who also happens to be a social activist, the stories all have some connection to social issues of the day, as well as to his own personal experiences.
In “I Am Irish,” set in Ireland, he strays a bit from his usual New York setting but manages to connect in the form of one of his central characters, a young Black man, Sean Jackson, who is part Irish (on his his mother’s side) and part a few other things, including African American, of course. The concept that someone can be Irish, but not Caucasian is an interesting commentary on stereo-types and Mr. Mueller knows how to write the kind of nuances that can make this character come to life. As in most of his plays, there are layers to each character portrayed and the pace of putting these works on the stage in a rushed manner, do not allow the actors to really explore those layers. Yet, I found “Sean” (played byAlan Cardy) to be one of Mueller’s most interesting characters thus far. That his Asperger Syndrome might be the reason why he talks mostly in verse and repetitive phrases, makes him interesting to watch. I was surprised that this worked as well as it did, and felt an almost immediate connection to Sean’s plight. He was likable, interesting and well played by the young actor.
The story has other deep layers too, like the dynamic of the central character, “Daniel O’Connell” (played by Mueller). We first meet O’Connell passed out drunk on the floor, but eventually he rises to the occasion and the challenges posed in the story. As the patriarch, Daniel deals not only with his oldest son’s desire to take over the family farm, but also with his 17-year old grandson’s homosexuality, and the resistance he is facing from his unaccepting father. Mixed in there is the prejudice of a small town and the pressures of dating a young man who is more willing to be open in spite of the consequences. Daniel is depressed after losing both his daughter and his wife, but as the patriarch he holds them together and proves to be a bonding force in spite of some internal family strife and a painful secrets later revealed. In this role, Mr. Mueller has done some of his best work to date, both as an actor and playwright.
Strong performances by much of the cast, a dramatic tale that poses some fascinating questions, and a clean and well directed work make the play an interesting addition to Mr. Mueller’s body of work.
Three performances are now in the books at the Winterfest Theater Festival at The Hudson Guild Theatre, but look for more from Mr. Mueller in the coming months.