Aisling O’Sullivan (left) and Derbhle Crotty create a mystery for the audience to solve in Mark O’Rowe’s The Approach | Photo by Patrick Redmond

The Approach might have you playing detective at the Dock Street Theatre. 

“There’s a mystery to be worked out within the scenes,” said playwright Mark O’Rowe, who is also directing his Dock Street Theatre production at Spoleto Festival USA starting May 26. “But also if you don’t work it out, it should work.”

The 60-minute play tells the story of two sisters and their friend over three separate conversations. As the characters’ layers are unveiled, the audience slowly discovers different truths about their relationships to one another. 

After these three conversations, a fourth scene goes back and repeats the very first.

“It is, you know, like a snake swallowing its own tail,” O’Rowe said. “And it connects to the beginning of the play again … So we see the beginning of the play twice. But knowing the context of everything that’s happened in between the beginning of the play kind of changes the meaning.”

The play premiered in Dublin in 2018. Two of the performers from that production, Derbhle Crotty and Aisling O’Sullivan, will be joined in Charleston by two-time Irish Times Theatre Award winner Catherine Walker, who plays the friend.

O’Sullivan said she was looking forward to revisiting the work. “There’s always something new that comes in,” she said. “It’s sort of a strange opening into how you’ve changed or something since you did it last. And I’m really interested in revisiting the play with a different actress.”

The prolific O’Rowe (Howie the Rookie, Terminus) has earned a reputation for what the Scottish Daily Mail has described as his “in your face fireworks shows.” But he says The Approach is not like that at all. 

“You start off in your late 20s, and all you want to do is show, you know, the fireworks,” O’Rowe said. “You want to give them the most complex, convoluted, energized kind of language, and show you can push everything to the extreme — lots of violence and sex. I’m very proud of the work I did back then, but I think it’s a little bit like, ‘Look at me.’ ”

By contrast, he said, “As you get older, you get a bit more confident in your abilities, but also, being older, you begin to look at things a little more deeply.”

That depth shows in the added responsibility of directing his own work — something O’Rowe has been doing since 2007. Earlier in his career, he would write plays and let someone else take over the directing. “It was somebody else’s interpretation,” he said. “That was always very much frustrating.” 

He now prefers to direct the initial production of each of his plays.

“It’s kind of great because you have so many of the answers to hang on very quickly,” O’Rowe said. “And those you don’t have, you kind of have the confidence to go searching for with the actors without feeling, you know, like your position is being threatened.”

How do the actors feel about being directed by the playwright?

“That can be tricky,” O’Sullivan said. “I like Mark directing me on his work, but I think with some plays you need to push from the writer and explore what the writer doesn’t realize you have written about your character, or you know, whatever your interpretation is.”

O’Rowe said he really wants The Approach to generate conversations in the U.S., not about politics or the state of the world but about the play itself.

“It’s not a controversial play,” he said. “But what it is, is it’s a play that really compels people to get together and go, ‘What do you think happened?’ Or ‘What do you think it means when she said that?’ ‘Did you not think this?’ ‘Is this one alive or dead?’ ‘Is this it?’  ”

The Approach runs May 26–June 12 at the Dock Street Theatre. Tickets start at $25. You can go to for tickets.

Gabriel Veiga is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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