As with the play 'Crestfall' and the 2003 celluloid offering 'Intermission', Mark O'Rowe's 'Howie The Rookie' presents a gritty depiction of Dublin suburbia. The intertwining stories of two feckless layabouts told through separate monologues showcase O'Rowe's distinctive vernacular.
The result is a vulgar and quite unforgiving view of the world. Cinematic in its expression, with references to Bruce Lee films and American Westerns, the often fast-paced delivery evokes the idea of a Raymond Chandler story transformed into a present day Hollywood blockbuster. For all that, there is something poignant about O'Rowe's story. It's a world where desperate people seem to find themselves permanently in desperate situations.
Following its success at the 1999 Edinburgh Festival, 'Howie The Rookie' has had successful runs in Britain and the United States. The original cast of Aidan Kelly and Karl Shiels reprise their roles here.
Howie Lee (Kelly) and Rookie Lee (Shiels), though not related, are the central characters in this revenge story. They once were friends, but their relationship soured when Peaches, another friend of Howie's is infected with scabies. It was the Rookie who passed on this discomfort and Howie is relishing the opportunity to knock his head off. The fact that Peaches would rather be put down than continually suffer only heightens the anger and resentment.
In a world where women are treated appallingly, and are only judged by their looks, events turn full circle when Peaches attacks Howie for sleeping with his sister and giving her hope that she really is beautiful, when in reality she is anything but. She is a heavily set individual, who is known to the world as Avalanche. When Howie meets an attractive girl, who does not succumb to his advances, he tells her that she should be at home.
It is only when tragedy strikes his own family that Howie begins to reassess his life and this transformation is described by Rookie's monologue in the play's second half. As equally repulsive as his former friend, this Lothario sees himself as God's gift to women, even though he is unaware that he has the dreaded scabies. While scratching himself on one occasion, he accidentally knocks over and kills an exotic fish belonging to another thug, Ladyboy. He has to come up with 700 in cash to make amends, and while he has raised 200, from offering himself to the 'dollies', his efforts at raising the remainder are proving difficult.
Yet while the Rookie is at his wits end to raise the cash and continues to treat his 'dollies' appallingly, he is determined to come to Howie's aid in his moment of need. For all his unpleasantness and false bravado, there is something appealing about the Rookie. The latter can also be said of Howie – he is somebody weighed down by the lack of opportunity that life sometimes deals out, and is ultimately a victim of cruel circumstances.
Both Kelly and Shiels are superb in their respective roles, and while Kelly may just shade the acting honours by a short head, there is no denying that collectively they give full expression to the lyrical text and the stark images that emerge.