Marina Carr has moved to the city. The bogs are gone; it’s all shiny marble and new sofas. The couples have names like Ben and Catherine, not Portia and Raphael. Their clothes are bespoke, not threadbare, and they speak as if reared with marbles in their mouths, not briquettes. Welcome, Marina, the city needs you.

For what has not changed is Carr’s ferocious sense of injustice. That is, as before, an existential injustice – her women (and what women) rail against the pettiness of society and the squalidness of fate. But there is a more pointed, urgent injustice also, a sense that this present society and city have failed its people. “I walk this city and all I can see is scaffolding”, cries Catherine: these are a people whom modernity, or money, or ambition – or something – has sundered from the land and from the possibility of any sense of self.

Carr gives us two couples, the men old friends and corporate colleagues, the women housewives rearing children. It makes for a nice counterpoint to Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’, currently running at the Gate: Stoppard’s play is neater and cleverer, and dated. Carr’s play is funnier, though clumsier; it possesses precisely what ‘The Real Thing’ lacks: passion and urgency.

Art dreams about making love to Ben’s wife in a marble-decked room, and tells Ben, jokingly. But Ben’s wife, Catherine, has the same dream, about Art. The dreams continue, and become the catalyst for the bursting of the bourgeois bubble in which these people have been living. Ben is driven towards breakdown; Catherine retreats into an almost permanent dream world; only Art’s wife, Anne, appears able to withstand the onset of this social madness, protected by her own, carefully-drawn screen of cynicism and routine.

Downstairs at the Peacock, Stephen Rea and Sean McGinley face off in the new Sam Shepard, ‘Ages of the Moon’. But they will be hard pressed to better the duet (or duel) between Derbhle Crotty, as Anne, and Aisling O’Sullivan, as Catherine. Carr’s words are not easy for actors: the more beautiful they are, the more improbable. But both women speak as if discovering these words for the first time, stumbling into them and finding them right for the feelings from which they spring. O’Sullivan laughs her way through lines as if in realisation of the madness of even voicing them. Stuart McQuarrie is strong as Art, but Peter Hanly’s Ben seems misdirected. Hanly was particularly good as the straight man amidst craziness in ‘Improbable Frequency’; here, he again plays the straight man, but his words belie his persona. Ben, like all the others, is fighting against the oncoming dark; Hanly needs to bring him closer to the edge.

Carr’s play has an unfinished quality about it, exacerbated by a final scene and closing tableau that seem uncertain. Perhaps she needs a tougher dramaturge or director, or perhaps she likes it like that. Crucially, though, she is speaking to our times, even as she speaks of the eternal, existential predicament. The word “bravo” springs from the word “brave”, my dictionary tells me. That seems appropriate.

For the Sunday Tribune March 1 2009