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Quietly: Theater review by David Cote
Two Irishmen walk into a bar… no, I’m not setting up a joke. Owen McCafferty’s three-man drama Quietly is dead serious; the only laughs come from idle insults hurled at a TV soccer match between Poland and Northern Ireland. Otherwise, we’re in for an emotionally brutal 75 minutes of grief and white-hot rage, with the faint hope of peace. As other writers have done before, McCafferty weaves a story about the Troubles, and the scars that civil conflict left on its characters.
We’re in a Belfast pub run by Polish immigrant Robert (Robert Zawadzki). Local man Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) nurses a pint, waiting for an undefined meeting. Jimmy’s clearly agitated and when Ian (Declan Conlon) enters, we understand why: 36 years ago, when both men were teenagers, Ian lobbed a bomb into this same pub, killing six men suspected of being IRA sympathizers—including Jimmy’s father. That’s no spoiler: We learn it in the first 15 minutes.
The play unfolds in real time with the tension and urgency of Greek tragedy. We are witnessing an act of purgation, the re-creation of a cataclysmic moment and the release of decades of hate. O’Kane is harrowingly good, a bullet-headed knot of anger and bilious rue. Conlon’s stoical Ian is more contained, until he’s provoked past the paralysis of his guilt. And Zawadzki maintains a fine balance between the two, a gently comical observer, the bemused outsider. Jimmy Fay’s direction is rock solid and the terse, lean play grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of pints drained and Irish woes recalled, but Quietly makes it seem as raw and wounding as yesterday.—David Cote
Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). By Owen McCafferty. Directed by Jimmy Fay. With Patrick O’Kane, Robert Zawadzki, Declan Conlon. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote