Eden is wonderful. Eugene O'Brien's play is an enthralling and disconcertingly realistic portrayal of the breakdown of a relationship. Billy (Don Wycherley) and Breda (Catherine Walsh) have been married for seven years. They have two young children and nothing to say to each other. He is enthralled by the putative sexual conquests of his best friend Tony; she is still besotted with her husband. Set in the Midlands, the play begins with Billy at a golf club function on Saturday. Breda is at home dreaming of the following night when she will go out on the town for the first time in an age and be escorted home again by her husband.
The set and staging are examples of the value of economy in space and design, liberating to the imagination of the audience. A series of geometric backdrops like Chinese screens frame a long, padded bench. Centred high on the back wall, an idyllic, backlit nineteenth century pastoral scene glows translucently over the proceedings. At either end of the bench the characters of Breda and Billy orientate themselves, sometimes standing, other times sitting, but never talking to or looking at each other. They don't really talk to the audience either, but to themselves in an interior monologue, describing the moment, revealing their thoughts, dreams and lusts. When one speaks the other sits immobile on the bench, separated by a chasm of incomprehension and antipathy.
How far apart they are psychologically is clear as they voice their hopes in mutually flat but curiously lyrical Midland's accents. Catherine Walsh gives a moving performance of Breda, down to the manner in which she sits slackly when Billy speaks. Tortured by memories of how alone she was when young and overweight, Breda tries to plot the future of their love on signs of affection from Billy, real or imagined: a kiss conferred, his humour in the morning, how much attention he pays to her in the pub and disco. And while she longs for and frets about Billy, throughout the play he schemes about how to bed Imelda, a local beauty. This has become his goal, a benchmark against which to prove himself. Here, in the fairly stock device of two chronologically parallel but conflicting accounts of the same emotional territory, lies the power and pathos of the play.
Eugene O'Brien has also written monologues and it might be argued that essentially Eden is simply two monologues inter-spliced. But there is a real dramatic power beyond mere words in the moments of intersection and diversion between their stories, in how they both describe certain moments – the kiss Breda steals from Billy in the kitchen on the Sunday morning – in similar or conflicting manners.
Don Wycherley creates an impressive portrayal of a man confused by the insidious familiarity of marriage and at the whim of his own appetites - drinking too much and lusting after someone, anyone other than Breda. Above all Eden is a treat, a story well told; and stories well told ring true. Here is Billy in the second half of the play after the disco (which ends with the national anthem), drunk and at a party: ". . . and I skull back some more 'cause I have to get back on track, get near to Imelda, I skull some more, 'cause they're all clappin' and singin', and I'm on me own in the kitchen tryin' to remember the first verse of 'House of the risin' sun." How many Billys do you know in your hometown?