Mark O’Rowe’s breakthrough play Howie the Rookie is a wild urban odyssey through a nightmare Dublin as two youths recount their intertwined stories of one fateful night. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 12 February 1999 (previews from 10 February).
The play is formed of two monologues delivered by characters that share a surname and intertwined destinies. The first monologue is spoken by 'The Howie Lee', a young man who gets dragged into a bizarre feud of honour against 'The Rookie Lee' – a feud that spirals out of control and ends in The Howie Lee's own personal tragedy. The second monologue belongs to The Rookie Lee, who has problems of his own. Massively in debt to terrifying gangland leader The Ladyboy for killing his precious Siamese fighting fish, he steels himself for a hideous revenge. That is until he is championed from an unlikely quarter by his onetime enemy.
In his foreword to Mark O'Rowe Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2011), O'Rowe acknowledges the influence on the play of Conor McPherson’s monologue play This Lime Tree Bower (Bush Theatre, 1996) as well as Samuel Beckett’s stream-of-consciousness novel Molloy (first published in English in 1955), which similarly features two interconnected interior monologues.
The Bush Theatre production was directed by Mike Bradwell and designed by Es Devlin, with Aidan Kelly as The Howie Lee and Karl Shiels as The Rookie Lee.
The play won the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1999.
The play was revived in June 2013 by Landmark Productions at Project Arts Centre, directed by Mark O’Rowe, with both characters played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The production transferred to Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, as part of the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, before returning in 2014 to the Olympia Theatre, Dublin; the Barbican, London; and BAM, New York.