Howie The Rookie
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Alastair Muir

Howie The Rookie, now playing at the Magic Theatre, brings back a primal form of story telling that depends on the imagination of each individual member of the audience. Unlike modern film and television, which provides all the visual stimulation, Howie The Rookie is a story told in two separate monologues. Like a tribe gathered around a fire at night, we listen to a story told by two tribal members.

First comes Howie Lee, played by Aidan Kelly, who tells us a tragic story laced with dark, down-to-earth comedy that this tribe is famous for. You guessed it, the tribe is Irish, and the tale walks that fine edge of death and resurrecting laughter. It’s a story that you’d expect to hear late at night in an Irish pub, but because it comes from an old tradition of tribal storytellers, it takes on a mythological mystery of the unexpected.

In the second act Rookie Lee, played by Karl Shiels, tells the story again from his perspective. It’s a very different story but shares the dark comic tone of Howie’s version. After all, they’re both from the same tribe. Of course their accents are perfect, and you often believe you’re listening to a foreign language, yet you still understand each word through the actor’s body language.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that both actors are from Ireland as is the playwright Mark O’Rowe and that they all believe in their tribal truth of imagination. “When your imagination does the work,” says O’Rowe, “you’ll always conjure up something far, far worse than you can see… When something isn’t shown but it’s hinted up in a way that will spark off your imagination, it’s more horrifying. You scare the hell out of yourself. You feel a bit queasy.”

So if you’re looking for a good primal Irish experience, no need to wait for that green beer at your local pub on St. Patrick’s Day. Just give the Magic Theatre a call at (415) 441-8822 or visit their website

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