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'Quietly' is a powerful, historical drama

“Quietly” is an aptly named play about historical events that were anything but quiet.

It uses a small and personal story about two disparate men to tell a larger story about unrest in Northern Ireland from the 1960s to the 1990s, commonly referred to as “The Troubles.”

A compelling, searing and heartfelt version of the play is the centerpiece of the Brigit St. Brigit Theatre’s annual Irish Festival, which continues all month. Director Cathy Kurz has created a piece that not only builds the drama to a gripping peak but teaches the audience about something many of us haven’t thought much about.

The play, by Irish writer Owen McCafferty, examines the fallout from unspeakable violence that occurred about 35 years before it takes place. After all that time, wounds remain fresh for Jimmy (Tim Driscoll) and Ian (Eric Griffith), who meet in a pub with only bartender Robert (Eric Grant-Leanna) in attendance. Jimmy and Ian are seeking an elusive closure.

Program notes partially explain The Troubles, but the play’s fictional storyline really makes that time come alive. Two groups were at the heart of the unrest: Loyalists (mostly Protestants) who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom and Irish nationalists (mostly Catholics) who wanted Northern Ireland to be part of an independent, united Ireland. Ian represents the former, while Jimmy is aligned with the latter.

Each tells his side of what happened one bloody day in 1974, in the same pub they’re meeting at in 2009. They know they’ll never be friends, or even understand each other; they both just want to talk and be heard.

All three actors are outstanding in difficult roles: Driscoll’s Jimmy seethes with barely controlled rage as he recalls the event that ruined his family; Griffith’s Ian struggles between needing to atone for something he did as a teen and his feeling that he shouldn’t have to continue to answer for it. And Grant-Leanna, as the Polish bartender, is quietly powerful as the witness to it all, sometimes relying on facial expressions rather than words. Each actor masters his respective accent.

The play is performed in a room at First Congregational United Church of Christ, and it’s amazing how that setting could look so much like an Irish pub. Designer Bill Van Deest used the church’s dark wood wainscoting to his advantage, adding a bar, shelves and tables that look like they’ve been there for years.

For those who want to know more about The Troubles, Niamh and Cliona Murphy will present “Turbulent Times: Growing Up in Belfast” in the church at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday as part of the Irish Festival.

“Quietly” certainly piqued my interest in the subject. It’s packed with vulgar language, so I couldn’t recommend it for young people. But if you’re over 18, it’s worth the investment, especially as it’s only a little over an hour long — interesting how something that brief could provoke so much thought.

I was one of only 13 people at a Sunday matinee, and that was a shame. This story deserves to be heard.

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