Howie The Rookie is quick to point out that he shares his last name with a certain martial arts star.
Howie the Rookie is a revenge story play by Mark O’Rowe, one of the new generation of Irish playwrights to emerge in the 1990s who challenged their drama’s traditional concern with rural life by focusing on urban stories. He has been described as a ‘dirty realists’ playwright, generally because his work is usually characterized by high-octane language and a surreal and violent sensibility. In this regard, Howie the Rookie is no different to some of his other works which include: From Both Hips, Crestfall, Made In China, Boy A and Terminus.
The play concerns itself with the Howie Lee and the Rookie Lee – no relation. They once were friends, but their relationship soured when Peaches, another friend of Howie’s, is infected with scabies by the Rookie. Howie is now itching to knock his head off.
O’Rowe grew up in Tallaght – a working class suburb near Dublin – and if he is to be believed – has stated that much of the violence in his plays comes from watching and re- watching a large amount of violent, bloody movies when he was in his teens.
There are certainly other brutal and surreal goings on involving Howie, the Rookie and Peaches (also known as the Avalanche in some circles). O’Rowe uses both characters as almost extensions of one another.
Red Stitch Actor Tim Ross playing the Rookie explains: "Yeah I know it is a bit confusing. It’s kind of like a mishmash of the two characters. There’s one character called the Howie Lee and then there’s the character I play called the Rookie Lee. So they’re not related but they have the same surname, which is Lee. One’s Howie and one’s Rookie and O’Rowe’s kind of combined the two names for the title for some reason.
Howie and all the others think that I’ve infested one of their mates with scabies so they come chasing after me but then it turns out that I didn’t infest them – I got them off someone else. My character finds himself in all these desperate situations and a lot of the time it’s not his fault."
Much of O’Rowe’s style comes from the juxtaposition of humour and violence. Says Ross: "The play is harsh and violent. It’s a very physical piece. The way we deliver the text, it’s not really natural at all. It’s very over the top with big strong moves when we describe what’s happening. It’s quite violent when it’s describing the fight scenes – really powerful stuff to listen to. I love if it (a play) makes you laugh and cry. That’s what I think this is. It’s a dream for me, this play really."
This play was first staged by Red Stitch in 2002 under the directorship of Greg Carroll who is also giving his encore performance for this production. The play was so well received the first time that the company decided to return it for it’s ten year anniversary. "Never in the past have they put on the same show twice," says Ross. "But they wanted to bring back one of the plays that everyone loved and so this was that one."
Howie The Rookie will play at Red Stitch Actors Theatre March 16 – April 16.