Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, this play hammers home its points a little too hard.
Playwright Gary Mitchell begins his 1998 work with a calm, quietly confident defense of violence. And in director Jeri Frederickson’s Midwest premiere production, actor Matthew Isler delivers this defense with a reassuring, clear-headed authority. Of course, once the show’s 90 minutes have run their course, Ray’s defense of violence has been completely dismantled. Justify it all you want, but all violence begets is more violence.
In a Little World of Our Own, set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, revolves around Ray and his two brothers—the upright, engaged-to-be-married Gordon, played by Jeff Duhigg, and the developmentally disabled Richard, played by Gage Wallace. The play follows the brothers as they try, with increasingly desperate measures, to take control of a very bad situation: The teen daughter of a family rival has been raped and then beaten half to death, with Richard as the principal suspect.
Isler and Wallace deliver the show’s best performances, Isler modulating Ray’s hangdog charm with a simmering rage and Wallace breathing life into a character that could easily come off as too schematic, as a convenient plot device. This is a problem throughout the play, in fact. It’s a pacifist story that keeps contorting itself and its characters to make sure they never contemplate pacifist solutions.
The play also reveals a disturbing lack of interest in the victim at its center. A girl is raped and beaten solely so that we can see its effect on these three brothers. At a moment when shows like 2666 and Rolling are presenting far more nuanced and searching portrayals of violence against women and its effects, In a Little World of Our Own feels all the smaller.
Irish Theatre of Chicago at the Den Theatre. Written by Gary Mitchell. Directed by Jeri Frederickson. With Matthew Isler, Jeff Duhigg, Gage Wallace, Robert Kauzlaric and Jodi Kingsley. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.