Review: The Good Thief (Fly on the Wall Theatre)

Photo of David Mackett in The Good Thief by Allison BjerksethThe Good Thief explores morals and ethics while being set in a bar

The story of a hired goon and a job gone horribly wrong, Fly On the Wall Theatre’s The Good Thief, currently playing at the Dora Keogh pub, whispers a tale into your ear as you sit on a banquette or stool, and sip at a pint of Guinness or Harp. Written in 1994, the monologue was then-23-year-old playwright Conor McPherson’s second effort, winning him the Stewart Parker Award for best debut Irish play.

Tony-winner McPherson, currently also showing on Toronto stages as the book writer for Girl From the North Country, is well known for his plays which tell Irish stories featuring troubled people, and our Narrator (David Mackett) certainly has his share of troubles. Imbibing in the alcohol, he pours out his heart to the assembled crowd. The ambiance is just right in this piece of site-specific theatre, making it seem like the person sitting next to you has turned to you and said, “You’ll never believe what happened,” or, in this case, “Shall we begin?”

Mackett’s narrator looks shopworn and mildly unsettled. Director Rod Ceballos has him begin his lilting litany standing at the rail at the bar’s centre, where he speaks easily and offhandedly. As his tale propulsively wends forth, however, you soon get the impression that he’s an impulsive man who grew up without doing much self-reflection at all, but is now left to it almost exclusively. The show’s title makes it unsurprising that part of the meditation hinges on the morality of the main character’s decisions, and an oblique commentary on what makes a good person.

A favourite trope in everything from romance to superhero movies is the redeemed villain, the person who’s just enough of a bastard to be interesting but not horrifying, the “bad guy” who’s not the real bad guy. He’s the con artist who has a change of heart, or the henchman who has standards and winds up turning on his truly black-hearted boss. Our narrator is not a “good” man by any means; he starts by freely admitting that one of the reasons his girlfriend left him for said boss was because he regularly beat her. He knows this was wrong, but claims she deserved it for being an annoying slut.

This girlfriend, Greta, is never far from his obsessive thoughts, as his intimidation of a local businessman goes south and he finds himself with bodies in the kitchen and a woman and child in tow, on the run from several factions of criminals and law enforcement alike. Secrets are revealed as the escape ranges further across the countryside, and his desire to save his unexpected charges seems to point toward a redemption. Or does it?

McPherson’s fascinating story is coupled with some violent and disturbing imagery, leaving the show best viewed by mature audiences, if the bar setting wasn’t already evidence. His plain, clear language occasionally veers into the poetic and thoughtful in ways that subtly change the atmosphere.

Mackett is a captivating speaker, who makes you feel for his character despite the repulsiveness of some of his actions. He never tries to excuse himself, and he never becomes wholly virtuous, but is appealing despite (or perhaps because of) this. He’s focused and measured, and creates suspense and interest with limited affectation, or even movement. It’s like you can see his conscience ready to jump out and strangle him, without him fully understanding why.

Though the space was well used, it would have been nice to see our narrator range more freely around the bar instead of largely staying at the table on “stage.” However, as the place was crowded and sightlines might have been an issue, this choice was understandable.

The piece does lose momentum after the main events are over, and its wrap-up seems to go on a bit excessively in trying to move us from those events to the here and now. But who hasn’t listened to a bar story that meandered a little bit, after all? His final image makes the time worthwhile, resting on a casual but haunting last line.

There’s only one showing left of The Good Thief, and I recommend you steal a seat before they’re gone. In the end, “goodness” takes place one action at a time.


Photo of David Mackett by Allison Bjerkseth.