By Erin Gannon Special to Published Nov 09, 2007 at 5:06 AM

I have to applaud the 19 Marquette University performing arts students that participated in the year long "Dublin Project," which reached its pinnacle last night with the U.S. premier of their original play, "Poor Tom."

As someone who has dabbled in theater here and there I have at least a small understanding of how much work goes into recreating a show, let alone building one, a good one more specifically, from the ground up. What I respect the most is the way the students invented their characters into believable and even memorable personalities, which for anyone who thinks that sounds easy I dare you to try it for an audience.

The "Dublin Project" started in August 2006 when the students began the foundational work for "Poor Tom" with the help of Patrick Sutton, the artistic director of the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland. After a grueling, four-day workshop Sutton returned to Ireland and enlisted playwright Martin Maguire to help complete the play. The students had the opportunity to perform at Sutton's school in Ireland this past July and after more revisions, they have brought "Poor Tom" full circle to Marquette University and the stage where it all began.

The show takes on a social justice theme as "Poor Tom" centers on the ones who are "left behind" in the midst of war. The motif of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil," pervades "Poor Tom" and casts light on the irony that those "left behind" are actually in the middle of their own side of war.

Initially the components of a crazed bride, a "perfect" man, and enough sexual innuendo to make the actresses' fathers blush, positioned "Poor Tom" teetering on the edge of the stereotypical and potentially cheesy. However, as the show progressed "Poor Tom" nestled itself safely on the side of a play with something more thoughtful to say about war's encompassing grasp.

My fears eased and, for me, "Poor Tom's" purpose came together with the intermittent moments the audience is addressed with insightful commentary about war by three soldiers under spotlight.

Several types of characters in a war situation are cleverly addressed throughout the show. There are the waiting wives, some of them grieving, some of them patient, and others on the brink of a meltdown. One of the more humorous characters is the eager, wannabe soldier pining to do his part, but clearly not adept. A few cowardly deserters, war protestors and policemen with bloody methods for maintaining patriotism to the war's cause, round out the cast.

My main criticism focuses on the central character, Tom. Perhaps this is my own fault for reading a synopsis of "Poor Tom" before I went, but I kept expecting more action from the character. The show's press release describes Tom as the one who opens the women's eyes to what they are doing wrong. In some ways Tom fulfills this role, but those moments are subtle and few. I would argue a bulk of Tom's action resides in his love story with Angela. I'm not saying that the way Tom's character evolved is wrong, he's simply not what I expected.

Besides a bit of confusion at the beginning and a feeling that I wanted more action from Tom than verbal explanations for his purpose, "Poor Tom" comes together as a commendable display of the talent in Marquette University's performing arts program.

Performances of "Poor Tom" continue at the Evan P. and Marion Helfaer Theatre, 525 N. 13th St., Friday, Nov. 9 - Saturday, Nov. 10 and Wednesday Nov. 14 - Saturday Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. And, Sunday Nov. 11 and Sunday Nov. 18 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $5 to $18 and can be purchased at the theater's box office.


Erin Gannon Special to
Originally from Michigan, Erin made her move to Milwaukee shortly after graduating from St. Norbert College in May 2007 with a degree in English. Erin tapped into her writing skills as an intern for the college magazine and is excited about the opportunity to combine exploring her new home and a love of writing with When she isn't writing at one of Milwaukee's many coffee shops, Erin can be found reading, running - she's obsessed - or trying to learn guitar. Searching for the best margarita in town is pretty high on the list of hobbies, too.