“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Chris Quinn says again and again in Caitriona Daly’s play, which focuses on an accusation of rape. Chris is not the one accused. His friend Davey is, but Chris defends him…for years, at great cost to him and his family.
“Duck Duck Goose” is the first play in the 14th annual Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival. The festival, which opens this weekend and is scheduled to run through January 31st, is one of the only two remaining January theater festivals that haven’t canceled because of the surge in COVID-19 cases. It is the only one to feature in-person productions. (The other festival, Exponential, Is entirely online.)
“Duck Duck Goose,” available from January 9 to 16, is one of the half dozen plays from 1st Irish that are being presented online — and one of the four that are recordings of stage productions from theaters in Ireland; it is directed by Jim Culleton, the artistic director of Dublin’s Fishamble company.
The play begins with Chris (Aidan Moriarty) waking up in the dawn aftermath of a raucous party in an apartment in Galway. He sees Jane (Caitriona Ennis) standing over him. They don’t really know each other, but they are the only people remaining from the party and they chat. Jane mentions that months earlier, Davey took a photograph of her at a previous party when “my nipple had popped out,” and distributed it on his WhatsApp group. Surely, he would have seen it?
“I swear, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
In the next scene, Davey (Liam Heslin) and his friend Andy (Naoise Dunbar) are alarmed. We learn that Jane has accused Davey of rape, and Andy of exposing himself, at the party that Chris attended. And they want Chris to delete the Whats App group where they chatted about that night (which is a different Whats App group than the one where Davey circulated that half-naked photograph of Jane.) By the end of the scene, Chris agrees to do so.
And then, we hear the chat and understand why they wanted him to delete it. It’s vulgar, explicit, incriminating.
The chat is spoken in voiceover, as we watch Chris rearrange the black boxes that constitute the set of the play, as he does in-between all the scenes that follow over the 80 minutes of the play and the three years in which it’s supposed to take place. That Chris creates the set of each scene is a subtle clue that what we are watching is the character reconstructing the events in his memory, or at least from his perspective. And that’s important, because the chat leaves little doubt (at least to me) that Davey sexually assaulted Jane. So it’s hard to understand why Davey adamantly denies he had even consensual sex with Jane, and why Chris insists on defending him publicly. He was there, he tells people over and over; she was fine. His defense leads to an escalating series of events, making things worse; protesters start picketing and vandalizing the paint store owned by his father.
The festival describes “Duck Duck Goose” as a play of moral ambiguity that constantly shifts audience perspective. I saw no moral ambiguity, but it does shift perspective—not the audience’s, but Chris’s. One can read Daly’s play as the moral awakening of a bro (Irish edition), someone who, to get along with his pals, participated in the collective myopia of male culture. “You’re a good person. I know that,” Chris’s sister Sarah (Roseanna Purcell) tells him. “I just sometimes worry, that you’re a bit led…“
Chris seems to come to an awareness of what happened, and his complicity, after a series of women confront him. One of them tells him the story of how she was the target of an unwanted aggressive advance while she was on a bus full of people, none of whom came to her aid. She thought to herself: “I’m not sure what’s just happened but it couldn’t have been assault. People don’t like assault, they stop assault, that couldn’t have been assault.” So, she asks, how can Chris “just know”that Jane was not assaulted “when people don’t even seem to know what assault is when it’s happening there in front of them?” It’s clever — if initially confusing — that all the confrontational women are portrayed by the same actress who plays Jane.
It’s less clever, and more confusing, that lines from the initial conversation between Chris and Jane insert themselves verbatim in later conversations Chris has with other characters – as if they’re haunting his consciousness, and pricking his conscience.
There is a point to this, just as I’m sure there is a message in the title. Duck Duck Goose is a children’s game, a little like tag, but it’s also slang for a specific sexual act. Daly doesn’t explain this in her play, but she does quote one character saying “If it talks like a duck, it’s a duck.” And – just in case we don’t get it? — several other characters at odd moments in the play suddenly honk or quack.