"What just happened?" This is the refrain that runs through Leper + Chip by Lee Coffey, a short, sharp punch of a play from Ireland, and director Tom Reing's newest find. It's like a tragic Rube Goldberg: a series of violent, bizarre events, each triggering the next, winding up in an inevitable dire conclusion.
Leper—so called since childhood because of the leprous looking burn scars on his leg—is a rough young street thug played by Liam Mulshine. Hired to bodyguard a party, he is distracted from his duties by Chip, a beautiful redhead, played by Katie Stahl; her nickname derives from a chipped tooth: "In Dublin, any nickname you hate sticks."
To their surprise, but not to ours, they fall in love. What ensues is a series of fights and chase scenes, each escalating in brutality and desperation, until a number of people wind up dead. Romeo and Juliet are invoked, although the cruel and vulgar meanness of these streets seems at a far remove from Shakespeare's world of linguistic elegance.
The language here is a mixture of dramatic dialogue and narration, so that much of the show seems to be a short story read aloud and theatrically illustrated. With the audience seated in a four-square arrangement framing the stage (not always a serviceable idea) the action—much of it physical—is choreographed impressively and performed relentlessly by actors who are agile in every way. Alternating between acting out the scene and explaining it, Mulshine and Stahl never falter, and neither do their excellent accents.
The world they live in is filled with fear and regret: a brother in prison, a father who is a drunk, another father who is a damaged vet, all trapped in a revenge culture. When Chip is being hunted down, her only solution to the danger she's in is creating a prison out of home: "if they can't find you, they can't kill you." Wrong again.
Leper + Chip crams a lot of drama into its 65 minutes, and is well worth a look.