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Irish immigration is played for comedy in ‘How to Keep an Alien’

Irish writer Sonya Kelly’s 70-minute “How to Keep an Alien” is cute as a button, bubbling on frothy comic language as our narrator describes falling in love with an Aussie lass but also falling afoul of immigration laws. It’s nearly a monologue, with Tonya Beckman playing the main figure, Sonya (Kelly originally played this autobiographical figure herself).

The play, getting its regional premiere from the D.C. Irish arts group Solas Nua at Dance Loft on 14, has Sonya narrating her romance in blissfully descriptive language. She first meets the 35-year-old Australian Kate while they’re both acting in “a Russian play in an Irish castle with English accents,” Sonya says in a typically wry refrain. (Absurdity fascinates her.) When it seems their romance is doomed to be short-lived, their patter includes mimed suicides.

Nick Fruit and Tonya Beckman in Solas Nua Theatre’s “How to Keep an Alien.” (DJ Corey)

“Irish flirtin’,” Beckman’s Sonya explains, her Irish pronunciation rich as — well, Sonya would insert some thick-as-stew, heady-as-poitín comparison here. Kelly, who performed standup for a while, has a gift for description, and the play babbles along on a stream of florid similes and entertainingly overwritten vignettes. An Irish monologue, in other words.

Actually, Nick Fruit plays a stage manager and several secondary roles, most notably adding laughs as a civil servant with a hellish demeanor. The show is directed by Tom Story, a longtime actor with plenty of comedy on his résumé, and the relaxed performance is alert to Kelly’s wit — it’s never forced. The rangy Beckman, who seems to be earning more worthwhile roles on the city’s small stages than anyone lately, not only toggles easily between accents, but also captures the cardigan-clad Sonya’s appealingly frazzled air, the sense of bafflement and wonder that drives her perpetually inventive expressiveness.

The plotting isn’t much of an asset here: The attraction is tone and style. Kelly muffles any sense of outrage as she waltzes through the theme of international romance and governmental red tape, rigorously documenting the relationship to satisfy the demands of the Irish government. The paper trail grows thick, which explains the wall of papers on the back of Brigid Kelly Burge’s bookish set, and the bobbing paper boats and lofted paper planes that help keep this diversion light as a feather.

How to Keep an Alien, by Sonya Kelly. Directed by Tom Story. Lights, Marianne Meadows; sound design, Michael Winch. About 70 minutes. $35-$45. Through Dec. 16 at Dance Loft on 14, 4618 14th St. NW. 765-276-8201.

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