A Man Walks Into A Bar

Modaks Espresso, 337 - 339 George Street, Dunedin, Dunedin

21/03/2024 - 24/03/2024

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Written by David Geary
Directed by Ryan Hartigan


dollhouse, Ōtepoti-Dunedin’s small but fierce, brave and cute performance collective, bring their fourth season to Dunedin Fringe 2024, and their very first site-specific production, staged at the iconic, funky and intimate cafe Modaks Espresso in George Street!

Two stand up comedians, a man and a woman, battle it out onstage. Their weapons? Jokes based on the classic form, “A man walks into a bar…” Who are they to each other? What happens when the jokes start hurting and the laughs run dry? Why is it that everyone in a bar has a story to tell? An internationally acclaimed absurdist comedy by Bruce Mason Playwriting award-winner, Kiwi playwright David Geary (Nga Mahanga, Taranaki), whose plays include classics like Lovelock’s Dream Run, Pack of Girls, and, just last year, the farce and alternative history QEIII: Black Betty at Centrepoint Theatre.

Past productions of the play have attracted strong responses in Wellington (‘Doubtless offering a journey of continuous discovery for its perpetrators, A Man Walks Into a Bar is already a tipple well worth sampling’ – John Smythe, Theatreview) and Auckland (‘every character with a dark side and a need to talk the subtext, is present like a ricochet in Geary’s wily human observations and deviously shrewd writing’ – Lexie Matheson, Theatreview)

A Man Walks Into A Bar stars the experienced and award-winning favourite locals and delicious performers Mārama Grant and Cheyne Jenkinson, and is helmed by Chapman Tripp and Broadwayworld award-winning director Ryan Hartigan.

Past dollhouse productions have attracted rave reviews, including Matt & Ben (‘Fast-moving and always funny, the play was received with wild enthusiasm’ – Barbara Frame, Otago Daily Times), The Many Deaths of Jeff Goldblum (‘Absurdist play hits the mark’ – Marian Poole, Otago Daily Times) and Stupid F**king Bird (‘The cast worked as one, jumping easily from pathos to playful’ – Simon Henderson, Otago Daily Times)

Modaks Espresso, 337-339 George Street, Dunedin. March 21st, 22nd and 23rd @8pm & March 24th @4.30pm.

Tickets: $20 / 15 / Try Your Luck


Company website:


Starring Mārama Grant (winner, Outstanding Performance: Female role, Dunedin Theatre Awards 2024)
Cheyne Jenkinson (nominated, Outstanding Performance: Male role, Dunedin Theatre Awards 2024)

Theatre ,

50 mins

A curiously meta experience ... a fantastical web of music hall gags

Review by Terry MacTavish 22nd Mar 2024

So, there’s this bunch of customers sitting in a bar called Modaks, when a man and a woman burst in. The man in true meta style announces, ‘A man and a woman walk into a bar’, then the scene collapses in on itself, they exit just as abruptly, and a fresh start must be made. 

A Man Walks into a Bar is altogether a curiously meta experience (especially during Fringe Festival, crammed as usual with stand-up comics), given its self-referential examination of joke-making and the very nature of comedy. Renowned Kiwi playwright David Geary is clearly having a ball, teasing us and riffing playfully in the style of many absurdist writers, from Ionesco to Beckett to Stoppard. We are at liberty to engage superficially, enjoying the nonsense, or plumb strange depths to search for the very meaning of truth.

Geary spins a fantastical web of music hall gags as this odd couple (called only The Woman and The Man) try to find better punchlines for the original joke, their relationship and possible history underpinning each new effort. Story builds frenziedly onto story, constructing a crazy rickety skyscraper, in imminent danger of collapse. And I am sitting so close.

The script reminds me a bit of Caryl Churchill’s experimental Heart’s Desire, in which the same scene is played out over and over, from the identical starting point, but going in a different direction each time, and incorporating increasingly absurdist elements, including the sudden eruption of a menacing giant bird. The menace here is in the stories themselves, earthquake, rotten tooth, obscenely drunken man, love gone sour.

In Noel Coward’s Red Peppers, a husband-and-wife vaudeville team perform onstage their songs and pretty awful jokes (“That was no lady, that was my wife! My dog’s got no nose. How does he smell? Awful!”) then bicker backstage, though they unite furiously against any outside threat. These two in Modaks may also be a couple, comedians who have worked together for years, currently planning a new show, or they may be totally different characters with every take, which begins of course, “A man (or woman) walks into a bar…”

Not that Geary is not an original – he is an endlessly intriguing playwright with a delightfully playful touch, even when the dialogue becomes somewhat gruesome. But it is a challenging concept, a cunningly nuanced script which in lesser hands could seem pointlessly repetitive or even fall flat. Fortunately, director Ryan Hartigan has two extremely experienced actors (indeed theatre award-winners) in Mārama Grant and Cheyne Jenkinson, and watching them in full flight is quite the Acting Technique masterclass.

Rather a pity then, that Geary is living in Canada, for he would surely relish seeing his work in the site-specific setting he intended. The very fact of its being set in a café/bar, exactly where we are, demands a naturalistic approach, and this is what Hartigan has chosen. Given the long skinny shape of Modaks, he has also wisely opted for a traverse performance, the actors meandering, strutting or even whirling up and down the narrow passage between patrons, beneath overhead lighting that feels more café than bar. 

But because these are such experienced performers, the proximity of the brightly-lit audience at their little tables is no handicap, and Grant and Jenkinson boldly give each character a marvellous physicality, as well as slipping competently in and out of various accents, all the time connecting with each other with ease and confidence.

Grant’s lusciously relaxed demeanour contrasts effectively with Jenkinson’s manic energy in many of the scenes, while Hartigan’s direction maintains a crackling pace. Sometimes the actors actually speak in unison, but at all times there is a tangible rapport between them, whether they are indulging in comical putdowns, or tender moments that are quickly denied.

At the conclusion, some who have laughed unrestrainedly throughout seem puzzled – what was it all about? – seemingly unaware they are themselves part of the show, ever-so-slightly intoxicated patrons who have sat, eavesdropping avidly, over a drink or two – Modaks has obligingly kept its bar open – but who, though greatly entertained at the time, cannot later recall what the conversations were, nor even their favourite jokes.

Fear not, I have virtuously stuck to Modaks’ excellent coffee, as I have my own agenda. “A person walks into their orange study to write a review…”


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