The second of Ronan Noones plays about his native Connemara gets first class treatment at his alma mater, as well she should after him winning the National Student Playwright Award from the American Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center and all. "The Lepers of Baile Baiste" had a decent run in Boston this fall for the Sugan Theatre, garnering generally favorable views, given its hot topic of priests sexually abusing children. "The Blowin of Baile Gall" doesn't shy away from controversy either. The term "blowin" refers to anyone not born and raised in this "town of strangers", which makes three of the five characters in this script outsiders. First there's Ciaran Crawford's Stephen, a lad from the orphanage trying AA and religion to escape his reputation as "Wild Stevie" a brawling drunk. Then there's Sam, played by Derry Woodhouse, who left town in his teens for America, now returned with his wife to be a building contractor in his old home town. Now they call him "Yank". But the real "blowin" is Laurence, a Black African "fugee" played by Aaron Pitre, escaping violence in his homeland, willing to do menial labor to get his mother, all that's left of his family, into Ireland.
The two locals are central to the drama. Eamon, a plasterer, is played by 2001 IRNE winner Billy Meleady . The setting is his former family home this workcrew is completely redoing for a wealthy English couple, the Bulls. Mrs. B is upstairs in her bedroom, waiting for her errant husband and slowly seducing Sam, the GC. The only woman onstage is Molly, a painter, marking a luminous return to the local stage by Susan B. McConnell. She was once intimate with Eamon, but broke off with the mean fellow to take up with Stevie, who's withdrawing from her motherliness as he tries to find salvation. Back in school she was even close to Sam. Between these four there's drama enough for most of the current crop of Irish playwrights. Moreover the character's names suggest interesting associations; Eamon after DeValera, the ardent nationalist, Sam changed by America, Molly sharing traits with Joyce's heroine, and Stephen a possible reference as well to that author's hero, but more likely named after the martyr,
Noone's addition of a Black refugee, probably illegal, to the mixture of poverty, prejudice, old family feuds, and sheer bloody mindedness suggests that he's not merely interested in illustrating decay back on the Auld Sod. As in "Lepers..." the black comedy of brawling and drunkeness turns to death and pointless tragedy, predictable but unexpected given the darkly comic premises of the play. The suggestion that the various troubles of the Irish represent universal human failings makes this author's intentions far less oblique than his compatriots in the current renaissance of Irish drama.
His dissection of the human condition wouldn't be half to telling without the skills of this cast. In Eamon Meleady once again creates a comic menace, from the same tribe, but surely distinctive from his previous roles. Audiences are already looking forward to his appearance in "How the Rookie" for Sugan in January. McConnell's Molly is probably the best realized characterization as she juggles her relationships with the four men. Crawford's Stephen is his strongest part yet, a naif tortured by his condition, swinging between moods. Sam is probably drawn from Woodhouse's years on this side of the pond. Pitre might be a little outclassed by this company, but his more mannered delivery suggest someone for whom English and this environment is truly foreign. This part could probably stand further research and finetuning.
The production values are first rate. Director Wesley Savick, while letting the language drive the action, shows real care in using Richard Chambers hyper-realistic set, one room of a house under extreme remodeling. Savick gives each player a definite space. Kim Carrell's fight scenes, some with real tools, are viscerally convincing. Award-winning costumer Gail Astrid Buckley has come up with clothes that really look worked-in. Sound designer Haddon Kime stresses the confrontation with the outside by using an original score with an insistent African beat between scenes. Mark Lanks' lighting takes advantage of shadows from the structural surround of the set to prepare several moments.
The third play in Noone's trilogy, The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag, is slated for production in 2003 at the end of this season at Boston Playwrights', under the aegis of the Bridge Theatre Company, whose most recent productions have been from the classical repertory. An equally interesting show is expected. Rumors of production in New York or abroad are also in the air. Boston's longstanding Irish tradition may see soon its first internationally recognized playwright, albeit a bit of a blowin.
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