If a point lurks somewhere in Irish writer Lee Coffey’s play called “Leper + Chip,” I can’t find it. Not that every play needs a point — a good story can be valid for its plot alone. But “Leper + Chip,” in a current production by Inis Nua Theatre Company, is not a good story.
Its characters, a guy nicknamed Leper and a gal nicknamed Chip — it’s not worth explaining those names — are young, worthless low-life scum in some sort of Dublin neighborhood from hell. He comes to a friend’s party and, eager for trouble, appoints himself the bouncer. She comes with her girlfriends to drink, maybe pocket some trinkets, maybe start some trouble. They meet in an all-out brawl, just after they’ve been appropriately mean to each other. (In this play, all meanness is appropriate. I think it represents the world and also no one you ever knew.)
All this nastiness and arrogance has to lead to … love! But nasty love. “Rough and tumble” here is literate. The two characters meet at the party and immediately use each other — Chip lures Leper up to a bedroom so that her peeps can start smashing things downstairs. Leper acquiesces so that he can get bonked. He does — but not quite in the way he wants to. Just when things are getting tropical, she socks him.
From then on, the themes of the scenes go something like this, although the order may be off:
Bigger violence → unbridled anger → death → a chase → talking about your father → talking about your brother for no reason → looking to continue the trouble → another chase → violence → sex → even more death → even more violence and death.
The action is non-stop, non-substance and like the constant cursing, stunningly gratuitous. After a while you feel as though you heard the same story 10 minutes ago. “Leper + Chip” goes on only 65 minutes, but audiences might feel they’ve had two hours worth. That is not a bargain.
At least the two actors in the Inis Nua production, Liam Mulshine and Katie Stahl, give it their all with performances that bring out the uselessness of their characters. Coffey writes his play as a narrated story from two sides; the actors spend almost all their time talking to you, not each other, spilling detail after detail of the violence that takes place over a couple days. While Mulshine and Stahl are excellent builders of tension — even if it is for tension’s sake alone — they can’t overcome the artificial feel of the narrative they’ve been provided. And no matter how adroitly Inis Nua’s artistic director Tom Reing moves his two actors in a small square playing space, he hasn’t the material to move the trashy characters into anything resembling sense.
—“Leper + Chip,” produced by Inis Nua Theatre Company, runs through March 5 at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, to the side of the Drake Apartments on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets. 215-454-9776 or inisnuatheatre.org.