Nomad Theatrical Company pays homage to Flann O’Brien’s absurdist classic, The Third Policeman, with this entertaining adaptation. The Third Policeman oddly experienced a bit of a revival when it was featured on an episode of Lost and was said to have inspired part of the show’s style and plot. I am not exactly sure where I first heard of Flann O’Brien, whom some count among Irish Modernist masters like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, but my copy of The Third Policeman had been sitting on my exponentially-growing to-read pile so several months. Nomad’s adaptation finally had me moving it to the top of my list– evidence that Nomad’s goal of reinvigorating the novel for new audiences.
The story follows an unnamed narrator who robs and kills an old man in the middle of the night. When the stolen money goes missing, the narrator seeks the help of some local policemen to find it. These policemen are comical, larger-than-life figures who spend their days stealing bicycles from the townspeople and conducting metaphysical science experiments. Their observations on life are both perfectly absurd and logical; their findings border between fantasy and reality.
Reading The Third Policeman feels a bit like being initiated into a cult. There are weird, mysterious things that only other readers could identify with and laugh at. For example, a perfectly scientific explanation of why we must all be afraid of bicycles. Part of what makes the book so memorable is how underneath the humor, there is an aura of mystery and doubt.
Nomad’s adaptation approaches the story with much of the plot still intact and chooses a far quainter tone. Traditional Irish melodies open the show and play throughout. Artistic director Grant Neale also has chosen to use puppets and manually projected images throughout the play. Much of the puppetwork by Ralph Lee was excellent. The puppets are diverse in style and use, each fitting its character memorably. They were delightful to watch and follow. The projected background was much less engaging, sometimes even obtrusive, and did little to forward the show’s tone or characters. I found myself enjoying the show’s script and acting, but missing some of the original unique gravity.
The Third Policeman plays through December 15 at La Mama Club. Tickets sold here.