'Self-obsessed, unsympathetic, predictable.' Playwright Derek Murphy is unforgiving in his exploration of the male psyche
Essentially Appendage is two-hander study of frustrated, misunderstood men-folk and their inabilities to cope with life's many challenges. The story begins when blue-collar worker Jack's car is hit by smug American businessman Peter, as Peter turns his car into his driveway.
Thereafter, Peter invites Jack in to his living room and onto his dead wife's leather couch for a restorative brandy. What follows is a subtle lesson in feminist supremacy. The script, by Dublin-born New York resident Derek Murphy, crackles with spiky exchanges of male one-upmanship as each man cagily stalks and sizes up the other.
'You're not alone, Peter,' says a reassuring Jack on hearing of the recent death of Peter's wife, Jill. 'That's f**king obvious,' comes the tart reply to the visitor who has clearly outstayed his welcome.
It turns out that both men have experienced a recent bereavement, both to cancer. What unfolds is an attempt to explore (or is that deplore?) the shabby, flabby morality of two weak male stereotypes, and what is revealed is hugely unedifying for all concerned.
The set – and indeed the narrative – is defined by two striking props. One is a big red leather sofa in the middle of the living room, originally bought by Jill, Peter's dear departed. The other is a picture of Jill hung on the wall: a malevolent Greek goddess, she impassively surveys the unfolding duplicities below, the pawns on the board deploying their feeble mortal reserves to outwit each other.
The early exchange between the two men about whether it's a 'sofa or a couch', whilst comically risible, also proves to be the not so subtle metaphor for their disparate but equally desperate intentions.
The first revelatory twist, when it comes, shouldn't provoke too many gasps (Jack and Jill, anybody?), but it's probably not meant to. Like a lot of things in Appendage, it seems like another device to demonstrate the spirit-sapping predictability of these two men, and by extension, most men.
Nick Hardin plays Peter to brusque, whiskey guzzling perfection and is a thoroughly unlikeable piece of work, all the more so because his bluster masks a small, insecure and sexually retarded man. Jack (played by Stephen Kelly) is obsessive and possibly schizophrenic, but not quite as aware of his myriad, grievous shortcomings.
Both men sublimate their impotency to the near-deification of a dead woman, who, in spite of her absence, proves to be the strongest character. Jill is a demanding, horrific and powerful enough presence here to manipulate these XY rated oafs from beyond the grave.
The see-sawing in this pitiful power play is enjoyable enough, and there's plenty of amusing asides to savour. 'I didn't make her happy, but I did do odd jobs around the house,' asserts Jack, cheerfully and unwittingly exposing his complete inefficacy.
What Appendage boils down to is two self-obsessed, unsympathetic men struggling to redeem themselves at the behest of a ghost. Past The Odd Couple, part Sleuth, with a cheeky sprinkling of Andrea Dworkin, Appendage is an engaging if grubby little two hander. 'What did she see in you?' cries an incredulous Peter near the play's end. The question here really is, more broadly, what do they see in us?
Appendage is currently touring Northern Ireland. Check out What's On for forthcoming dates.