In his production of The Bull, director Keegan-Dolan takes directorial chances like a matador waving his red cloth. Although he makes it out of the ring safely, he almost gets skewered by presenting so little dance in this story based on The Tain, an Irish legend in which a powerful woman, Maeve, manipulates everyone around her to get a bull. The story progresses into a shocking portrayal of what human will do to obtain what they want, and in this performance, the characters leave trails of destruction in their wake.
The bull provides the sanest image in an otherwise wild cast. From the moment we whiff the sweet smell of dirt heaped in mounds onstage, drama spins and animal instincts take over. Humans fight, have sex and kill each other over this Charolais bull until watching the action unfold feels like having dirt kicked into the eyes. As cast members repeatedly shout loud expletives and hurt each other in ways so appalling it feels tempting to squint and turn away, we are drawn back by their anger and passion. At every turn of the story, we see red.
Keegan-Dolan fills the production with archetypes such as anima and animus leaving us astonished at how basely humans will behave. In one of the stronger performances in the show, former Riverdance star Colin Dunne acts as the lead dancer in the invented Irish dance spoof Celtic Bitch, serving as Maeve’s sex toy, available at her whim, but so emotionally detached that he actually unscathed from her cruelty. Maeve’s daughter is less fortunate, and in one of the lowest moments she whores herself to help her mother’s cause.
Just when it feels like the entire dirt-kicking cast is going to completely self-destruct, they each grab a tool and start shoveling. Maintaining their own rhythm but eventually contributing to one overall hum, they move in unison and order takes over. Their shoveling is a kind of dance, as individual as a fingerprint, and for moments the killing and betraying evaporates away. We can only control ourselves, the show’s final moments say, and if the dancing had started earlier, we might never have witnessed such destruction.