Credit: Ros Kavanagh

So, two Irish actors walk into a bar. As does the entire audience. That’s the setup for Roddy Doyle’s Two Pints, imported from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre to Navy Pier. In the pub at Chicago Shakespeare, the audience members are flies on the wall (or rather, crammed around tiny tables surrounding the bar) as a pair of never-named blokes (Liam Carney and Philip Judge) banter over Guinness and the occasional whiskey.

The premise doesn’t sound promising. Does anyone need to spend two hours watching a couple of boozy dudes chatting about their troubles? But Doyle—ably assisted by director Caitríona McLaughlin—pulls off something approaching unexpectedly wonderful with Two Pints. As the men, served by Laurence Lowry’s wordless, poker-faced barman, commiserate, their low-key banter turns into a poetic exegesis on being and whatever it is that follows. There’s beauty and profundity in the proceedings, as well as a shade of Waiting for Godot. Both men scoff at the idea of an afterlife even as they cling to rituals that insist otherwise. When death does show up, it’s expected and even welcomed. Even so, it’s also accompanied by knee-buckling grief.

Carney and Judge capture the staggering blows that life (and its constant companion, death) mete out with humor and humanity, some of it bleak, all of it recognizable. Pathos plays no part here, not even when sorrow makes the men bend to the point of breaking. That they’re both still standing at last call is a testimony to the resilience humans can muster, with or without a pint of Guinness in hand.   v