The terrain traversed by O'Brien is as well-trodden as the path to the village pub that Billy (Bill Zielinski) takes with depressing regularity every night. The merit of O'Brien's approach to his marriage is to give more than equal time to the wife at home - a figure too often consigned to faceless suffering in Irish fiction.
Billy and Breda (Madi Distefano) have been married 11 years. After bearing two daughters, Breda has diligently lost the weight she gained and is girlishly hopeful that she can rekindle the spark that went out of their lives years ago. But Billy, a guy suffering from high self-esteem that is entirely misplaced, has his eye on Imelda, the teenage daughter of a friend.
O'Brien's play splits time between his two characters, and it really isn't a fair division. Billy is a sexual braggart eager to maintain his stud image at the bar and unable to acknowledge some hard truths about his life and relationships. His soused riffs inevitably have the staleness of a day-old pint of the beer he consumes in alarming quantities.
Breda offers by far the richer part, and Distefano gives an affecting and responsive reading of a woman stranded between fantasy and a very difficult reality.
Brat Productions is staging Eden in a setting you can take either as depressing or supremely apt: the upstairs room at Fergie's Pub in Center City. Billy sits at the counter and Breda at a table across the room, and the babble from the bar below provides an accompaniment to their monologues.
The action - and Billy finds none of the sexual variety that he expects - unfolds over the course of a night on the town. There are occasions when you feel the limitations of monologue and want to see assumptions exposed and tested by interaction with other characters. Yet Zielinski and Distefano still bring out the pain in two unhappily united lives.
Their Irish accents are little more than vague stabs that fluctuate erratically, missing the cadence of the natives by a mile. Since O'Brien writes in thick vernacular with liberal servings of Irish slang, this matters more than usual.
Zielinski, who was excellent as Christopher Trumbo in the Philadelphia Theater Company's recent production of Trumbo, is in Eden only through next Saturday. He is scheduled to join Brian Dennehy in a national tour of Trumbo. Billy will be played by different actors in the final week of Eden's run.
Contact theater critic Desmond Ryan at 215-854-5614 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/desmondryan.
Written by Eugene O'Brien, directed by Tom Reing, settings by Bradley Helm, costumes by Andre Harrington, lighting by John Stephen Hoey.
The cast: Madi Distefano (Breda), Bill Zielinski (Billy)
Playing at: Fergie's Pub, 1214 Sansom St., through Jan. 29. Tickets are $15. Information: 215-413-0975 or www.bratproductions.org.