CoMorbid Short Play Festival: A Summary
Last week large numbers gathered in the International Bar for an evening hosted by CoMorbid Productions. Comorbid Productions is a newly founded Dublin art collective consisting of of artists affected by disability or mental health issues. Comorbid hosted a performance of short plays and extracts from longer works highlighting the voices of playwrights affected by mental health issues and disability. Through an eclectic mix of plays they explored themes of gender, sexuality, mortality, dystopia, loneliness, psychiatry and what it means to be human.
The night began strong with “Options” by Finn MacGinty O’Neill
Finn is an Irish trans writer and director currently studying media in Maynooth. She’s been published in the Westmeath Examiner, Manawaker Studios, and Bunbury Magazine. She is also part of the core cast of CoMorbid.
Options portrays a sinister drug trial for a pill designed to eliminate gender dysphoria. However, the director of the trial seems more concerned with punishing patients than helping them as she interrogates the play’s main character. She alternates between treating him as a petulant child and a delusional criminal with an intensity many both neurodivergent and trans people will find uncomfortably familiar.
Next was “Yellow” by Jody O’Neill
Jody is a writer and actor, having previously written for Fair City is branching out into more community minded theatre. She spent the past two years learning researching Autism Acceptance. Based on this, she is currently working on What I (Don’t) Know About Autism, which premieres in February 2020.
Yellow focuses on a young, emphatic woman named Lizzie. She is a listener, a creature of habit. She sticks to the same routine, day after day after day after month after month after year after year until… The Day That Everything Changes. The piece was an absolute joy to watch and plays with the neurodivergent approach to routine in a way that is humorous but never marginalising. In a relatively short time we are given a quite robust sketch of Lizzie and what brings her joy. I look forward to seeing Jody’s play next year, which will feature an autistic cast, including my predecessor Eleanor Walsh!
This was followed with “Altitude” by Nathan Patterson.
Nathan Patterson is a 22 year old actor and baritenor from Dublin. As an autistic, trans man with other ongoing mental health struggles, he finds it near-impossible to find theatre he can relate to in Dublin. Though he is the writer and director of this piece, his main love is acting in musical theatre and non-musical theatre, and his ultimate dream would be to normalize Trans and Autistic bodies on musical theatre stages. He is another core cast member of CoMorbid.
Altitude portrays a sleepy town where nothing happens, save for an utter disregard for the laws of time and space. Patterson’s extract sees an eccentric but sinister private detective hoping to unravel Altitude’s mysteries. While interrogating the local doctor he finds a story which exceeds even his wildest imagination. Altitude was a fascinating, complicated study of a bizarre town. Any fans of Welcome to Night Vale should look out for this!
After the intermission we were presented with “Caer”, written and directed by Kate Conboy-Fischer.
Kate is a Dublin born playwright and performer with an MA in Theatre in Practice jointly from UCD and the Gaiety as well as a BA in English and Drama from UCD. She has been writing, directing, producing and performing in work for almost 10 years, her work has been included in festivals such as Scene & Heard and she has performed as part of Giant Wolf Theatre Company at the Edinburgh Fringe.
I’ll admit Caer stumped me a bit. From what I can see the play focuses on a period of depression or burnout. The play’s principal character has been in her bedroom for months. She can’t bring her to leave and her only visitor is a man who alternates between paternal and abusive. The play was unsettling and I suspect my confusion may be a deliberate sensation the play was trying to create.
Next we had “Mattress” by Ollie Bell
Ollie is a recent Trinity College Drama and Theatre graduate and is the co-founder of Trans Pride Dublin. They have worked in nearly all aspects of theatre including sound design, acting and backstage work. They also write poetry, which they perform occasionally.
Mattress was another show approaching trans issues. Given the importance of LGBT identity and its intersection with neurodiversity, it was really heartening to see this connection being highlighted repeatedly by CoMorbid. The show confronts trauma and its aftereffects with a non-binary person and their immediate social circle. The show took a more experimental approach, opening with a chorus style piece blending numerous voices to (I assume) simulate the pressures and voices influencing the main character’s silence about their trauma.
We ended the night light, with “We’re All Going to Die” by Aisling Walsh
This is Aisling’s first staged piece. She is a 20 year old UCD student studying Politics and Sociology. She has always had a keen interest in the arts be that through writing, music, acting or cinematography. Basically, the sketch portrays Sam discovering his own mortality and having the mother of all freak-outs. Despite the dark subject matter, Walsh’s piece approached the subject with a no-nonsense, good-humoured tone.
Each of these plays had strong ideas behind them and I can’t want to see them in a longer form. Look out for CoMorbid, you may see them working with AsIAm in the near future….