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Troubles Live On: Tension in Belfast

There’s this pub in Belfast, you see. In the nearly empty space, a TV sizzles with noise— volume reduced—of an elsewhere crowd, yelling at each other across opposite sides of a major contest. Football. Thus does Northern Ireland’s Owen McCafferty tellingly set the scene for something inside that pub which will mirror and reflect on such tensions.

The play is Quietly, offered up for consideration by Brigit Saint Brigit Theater Company. Two strong men stand face to face, portrayed with impressive depth and dimension by Tim Driscoll and Eric Griffith.

In the stadium, it is anything but quiet. Inside the pub, silence is not an option. Especially not from Jimmy. He’s got a lot on his mind. He starts unloading his thoughts on Polish immigrant bartender Robert, and, despite the fact that their nations’ teams contest for victory, these fellas have a kind of mutual acceptance. Yet the main event about to start has a far more deadly set-up, given the past. Jimmy is waiting for someone and something which could be much more explosive. He’s already a lit fuse.

Jimmy warns Robert about what might be yet to come. Ian comes. Ian set up a meeting between himself and Jimmy. 36 years ago, those two were on opposite sides of the violence during The Troubles. Things may have simmered down some in the intervening years. But not entirely.

Then-16-year-old Ian was a Loyalist recruit. He threw a bomb into this very same pub, ordered to kill presumed IRA members there. One of the victims was Jimmy’s Dad.

McCafferty’s premise and development make it real. Beyond that, he has remarkably created telling undercurrents. He asks, too, if reconciliation can ever conclude quietly. Take it from there.

Director Cathy M.W. Kurz takes it where it needs to go, pacing the tension expertly, keeping those two, one-time different sides of the same Irish coin spinning. Eric Griffith’s version of Ian’s contained, controlled strength solidly says a great deal even while he’s silent. As Jimmy, Tim Driscoll unflaggingly and thoroughly unleashes a believable torrent of expletive-loaded words. Kurz rightly has him almost bouncing against the walls while Ian stays mostly motionless. Meanwhile Eric Grant-Leanna gives Robert a genuine sense of someone still somewhat alien to himself, not yet settled into where he is, coming from outside the narrow confines which define someone else’s struggles.

The program book, as always, could be a model for other local theater companies, with informative and interesting things to read. Alas, this time around, nothing is said about the author. McCafferty’s script was hailed by The Irish Times as “The best new play of the year” in 2012 and since has won numerous awards including 2013’s Writers’ Guild Award and Fringe First Award.

His Scenes From the Big Picture from 2003 earned him the John Whiting Award, the Evening Standard's Charles Wintour Award for New Playwriting and the Meyer-Whitworth Award, the first time any playwright had won all three awards in one year. He’s written many other plays.

You might want to note that the space wherein this is played out can have the feel of a cold Belfast evening. Should the Omaha evening outside be the cause, prepare yourself.

Prepare yourself as well to observe, as the action inside quiets down, what is going on just over the wall next to the pub. There’s a reminder, from the street, of what Laura Collins-Hughes of The New York Times said last July reviewing a production, “when a society loses control (it’s) a reminder that terrorism and demonization of the other have always been with us.”

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